Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;
19 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.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?
21 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 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.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. -- Amos 5:18-24
I have probably said it before and will probably say it again, but I really like this time of year. For one thing I'm not sweating merely because I am breathing like I do in the summer months here in Arizona. For another I like looking up at the stars and planets, especially my friend Orion. For another, I really enjoy Christmas lights. I revel in the colors and the tiny pinpoints of light that shine in the darkness. I hate to see January come because the lights will be gone for another year, and the nights will be dark and cold, and I will feel lonely once again
I don't long for Christmas Day because for me Christmas Eve is the pinnacle of the whole year. Church with its candles, joyous music, lights shining out into the darkness of the neighborhood, and the joy on the faces of fellow worshipers, make it a special evening. Returning home on Christmas Eve it feels like I am in a very thin spot where heaven and earth are very close together. It's the one time of year I don't really mind being cold.
Amos, in talking about people's perceptions of what pleases God and the errors they make in their perceptions. He compares their ideas and practices to darkness, which often can produce errors and cover evil deeds. God isn't fooled since God can see through the darkness as well as through the light, but quite often people can't. They think they have everybody fooled that they are tragically wrong. To quote Amos, "… It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion, and was met by a bear (19 a-c)."
I like Amos's comparison of fleeing from one danger only to run into another one just as bad if not worse. It isn't always something life-threatening, but even small attempts to elude something can land us in the soup as it were. We try to take a shortcut through town only to find the traffic is jammed up and it will take longer to get where were going then had we taken a longer route. We buy that extra something that we think will make us happy and then find the cost of that something is exactly what we would have needed to pay for a medical bill or a car repair. Lions and bears are all over, not just in zoos or on football fields.
God doesn't necessarily want all the fancy liturgies and shows of piety or even allowed proclamations about what God really wants from someone who might have missed reading certain portions of Scripture that others try to live by. What God wants is really very simple, according to Amos and others. "Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (24)"
Maybe God doesn't need the big fancy Christmas service in church but we do. Perhaps God prefers quietness and reflection of Advent, where were listening for God's will and wishes. Upon reflection, Christmas is sort of like Sunday dinner after a spartan week. It refreshes us, it brings us joy, and that brings God joy. But too many Sunday dinners in a week make them much less special and much less relevant. It's hard to appreciate the really good things in life if we don't have a bit of balance to judge it by.
I will probably continue to look for lions and bears as I go through this Advent, but I will probably do more listening as well. Perhaps that's something all of us could do to avoid the dangers of determining what we think God wants versus what God actually wants from us.