Archives for posts with tag: Advent

Black Hole, Part 6

My first application deadline arrived. Clicking on the ‘Submit’ button last Monday was terrifying. In the naive optimism of a procrastinator, I thought I would have completed my essays weeks ago. Yet, even as I was sending them out in the final days for review to a few readers (arguably one of the most difficult steps), I got back the most wonderful thing: encouragement. Through the wrestling and questioning, the debilitating moments of panic, I can say, with God’s grace and more than a little help from friends, I have made it to here. The first one is done, now it’s time for the rest of them.

However, what I cannot think about is the life that is not (yet?) to be. The slightest whisper brings costly tears that I do not have time to let spill. I stopped going to acupuncture, stopped thinking about timing, stopped wondering. I certainly have not been watching what I’m eating, unless you count the cookies and sips of wine as they head towards my lips.

 

What does watching entail, anyway? I find it fascinating that we have these different words for taking in the world with our eyes: watch, see, look. They are active verbs even when noting a fairly passive scenario. To see something, like a rainbow, is to denote hiatus or pause long enough to observe an external phenomenon. Then there’s the dynamic of looking–the person does all the work in looking, scanning to see or recognize something on the other end of the gaze. To watch for indicates activity combined with waiting, expectancy. The latter two verbs require completion: looking towards, watching for, waiting… wondering…

The Advent narratives are filled with waiting and wondering. Luke’s gospel begins with a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who waited for years and wondered if they would ever have a child, only to see the years pass by with no blessing while shame and disgrace piled high. Their barrenness parallels that of Israel, who for hundreds of years had waited for the Messiah and wondered if he would ever come. Then there’s Mary, Mother of God, who had to wait for her expectancy to show, and wonder if she would be accepted by Joseph and his family. In these stories, the characters only know to watch for something after a significant interruption, which brings in another sight word: appeared.

Divine messengers appeared to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in her home, and to the shepherds in the field. These are fully God’s action upon humanity. Then suddenly there appeared… Had the characters prayed for such a shock? Had they been looking towards, watching for, God? How do we take this for ourselves? Once upon a time, God sent…but that was then, this is now. Yet now is the time when we talk about miracles, even in our post-Christian, consumer culture. What were Zechariah’s prayers in the weeks and months before the angel appeared? Did he continue to pray for a child?

I am wrestling with a question that emerges when we do believe in miracles. When we expect God to act, to interrupt because he has done it before, in the person of Jesus, born from Mary, and in our own lives, at some point. How do we expect? How do we watch and wait? How do we anticipate interruption? Jesus would close parables with, those who have eyes to see… Yet, what if we don’t know what we’re looking for? Our eyes take in a lot, especially this time of year. Further north, our eyes are adjusting to shorter days, which means, in part, the displays of Christmas lights are that much more brilliant. It’s easy to miss the smallness of our Savior, born in Bethlehem, even with all the illuminated replicas around town. The manger almost blends in with all the other lawn dioramas. So, how do we see something that is before us? How do we look for the God of the Impossible?

 

God’s timing is not our own (just ask the Israelites). But if we are to be people of Advent, we must anticipate interruption. We must want God to mess with us, really. We must long for the sake of longing, desire a deeper capacity for desire, and expect to be interrupted.

Do we have eyes to see God’s handiwork this Advent? Are we looking for grace and joy? Watching for love? I hope so.

Black Hole, part 5

The beginning of a new church calendar year. Advent. Jesus is coming…first in the form of an infant, fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything. Hard to imagine Redeemer God as a newborn.

For the first Sunday of Advent, my husband and I attended the Episcopal church down the street from our place because it is beautiful, and an encounter with the theological Other (though, moreso for me). The incense is a bit much, but I appreciate how the gospel reading always takes place in the center of the congregation. I enjoy hearing the homily given by a young woman who sits five rows back. I delight in how the theology is sung throughout the service, even as I scramble to get to the right page before the verse ends. I am fascinated by the strangeness and wonder of it all…

Just before the Eucharist is served, all the kids who had been in their classrooms came clamoring upstairs to join their parents for the remainder of the service. While parents were often distracted by the wiggling bodies in the pews, and missed some of the genuflects and crossing of the hands, I was nonetheless a little envious as they brought their kids up to the altar to receive Christ in the bread and wine. Advent is my favorite season, yet in recent years it has taken on a dissonance as I wait and wonder if a child will ever come to my husband and I. Expectancy is not something I have embodied. Yet the church is called to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ every week of every year. So, how can we learn from the mothers in our midst–especially when, socially, we don’t like talking about this sort of thing? Frankly, the last thing I personally would want to do right now is sit down with someone who has been pregnant and given birth, and hash out all the gory details. But what does it mean to be expectant for a period of time? To watch as change occurs. To wait for the fulness of time to arrive.

I will be honest, though, I don’t like the way people talk about their pregnancies. It seems that writers either remain clinical in their observations, so that you cannot tell if they are preparing for a knee joint replacement or an infant; or the platitudes spew forth so voluminously that you are left drowning in Hallmark sparkle. Perhaps the experience is so profound it defies language. (More likely: I just haven’t read the many accounts written by talented women because I haven’t searched that deeply.) Then again, how would a woman write about an experience that can only be shared by a portion of society; particularly when our social values see months of pregnancy as a health care liability?

I want to know what it’s like to be physically suspended in a state of expectation. In fact, I desperately long for this feeling. My sense is that the church today needs it, too. We need to be reminded this Advent of what it feels like to expect new life.

. . . . . .

Before we know him as teacher, Mary knew him as a child. Before we know him as healer, Mary knew him as needy. Before we exalt him as Savior, Mary knew him as flesh from her flesh. 

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.

I find it appropriate that Thanksgiving comes just before Advent. Remembering God’s goodness is the foundation for expecting/anticipating God’s coming.

This is me with Dr. James M. Houston, of Regent College. I got to meet him recently at the CASA Network leadership conference.

This is me with Dr. James M. Houston, of Regent College. I got to meet him recently at the CASA Network leadership conference.

This year I am grateful for professors and pastors who have walked alongside me in seminary, who see and call out God’s gifts, and who keep me and my family in their prayers. Completing a seminary degree is a significant milestone for all of us. It is a moment that signifies greater knowledge of God and the church, responsibility within our communities, and for most (if not all) has come with further dependence upon and trust in God. This year I am most thankful for a few remarkable individuals God placed in my life, whose wisdom and long journey of following Christ are storehouses of riches. God is faithful to and through all generations.

In the Kingdom of God now/not yet paradigm, thanksgiving is a call to anticipate more. Not that what we have received is insufficient, but because we know there is a grander vision for all of creation. Gratitude is the threshold on which we stand in expectation of delving further into hope, faith, love and joy for still more people. Listen to the Advent readings this year: while we celebrate God’s incarnation in the person of Jesus, born to Mary amidst straw, mud and cattle, there is a voice in the wilderness crying out even still. Prepare the way of the Lord, in our churches and neighborhoods, in our cities and regions. Make straight a path within our own hearts to receive the coming One.

This Advent, when we ask of Jesus, Are you the one who is to come? (Mt 11.3) let our thankfulness be the substrate of our prayers, the platform of our anticipation. Let us remember what God has done, as we walk alongside one another, sharing stories of God’s faithfulness yet to come.