Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
as if someone fled from a lion,
and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
and was bitten by a snake.
Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream. - Amos 5
I once heard a great sermon in which the preacher asked whether we ever get bored in church. Then he pointed to this passage from Amos as evidence that God gets bored in church, too.
Seriously though, this passage is about the misdirection of our efforts. It's not a slam against any type of religious observance or any specific liturgical practice. But when we go to church, sing joyfully, get caught up in a wonderful experience, and then go right on living lives that oppress others, the whole attempt has been pointless.
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How might we be misusing this Advent season? Is it all about checking things off the Christmas list? This needs to happen, certainly, but does it happen all in a rush at the mall in a two-hour window because that's the only time left on our schedules? Are we giving such extravagant presents to those close to us that we forget to share with strangers through our charitable efforts? Are we failing to notice the people in our lives who might need the gift of our love and assistance more than Uncle Bill might need one more tie?
God knows it's not easy, balancing our God-given right to the pursuit of happiness with the God-given mandate to change the world for the better. And we can never do it all, but that doesn't mean we should ever give up. When the "day of the Lord" comes, may we have ordered our lives in such a way that the words we hear are, "Servant, well done."
Yet let's never forget as well that to whatever degree we have failed, we can also expect to hear the words, "I love you, and I forgive you. Enter into the joy of your Lord." Without these words, all our efforts would all be futile. With these words, all will be redeemed.