Advent is drawing to a close

By guest blogger: Amy Nee

Advent is drawing to a close, Christmas is almost upon us.  Once again, I feel that the days have passed all too quickly.  I seem to have been too busy to attend to advent. Now Christmas Day is around the corner and I have this uneasy feeling that I’ve missed something, that I’m not ready yet.

How often this is the case!  I imagine that having a time for waiting is equivocal to having extra time.  So much time that it’s common to talk casually about “killing” or “wasting” it.  Then, as I do verbal violence to time I wound all that lives within it; killing and wasting the potential waiting to be born in every moment.  Momentous events that were meant to come as presents become a presentiment for which I am un or under prepared.

But it’s not too late!  Advent is not over yet!  And really, is advent about waiting through a patch of time or practicing a way of being, practicing and paying attention, learning to listen.  I am beginning to think of advent being akin to waiting on a table.  An active stance, attending to a particular table and to its place in a larger room; listening, watching, anticipating, understanding, acting according to what has been seen and heard.

Advent being a time of waiting that precedes Christmas gives context for the attention, a framework, a particular story, instead of a particular table, and how that story stands in the context of time, historical and present. This story reveals Mary, minding her own business, surprised by an angel who tells her not to fear, an angel to whom she responds with acquiescent boldness, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”  Joseph too is taken by surprise, no doubt.  Before any angelic intervention he discovers that his betrothed is with child (and it is evidently not his).  Analyzing the situation, channeling conviction, and perhaps affection, into a generous, socially acceptable action, “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame, [Joseph] resolved to divorce her quietly.”1

And this could very well have been the last we hear of Joseph.  Indeed, we may not ever have heard of Joseph accept that, though he had “resolved” in his mind the action he would take, he was waiting.  Despite his logical, even loving resolve, “he considered these things.”  Joseph too heard the voice of an angel, speaking to him in a dream, saying “do not fear to take Mary as your wife,” he paid attention, overcame the constraints of his anxieties and in so doing entered a new life.

“Do not fear,” continually accompanies the angelic announcements.  Indeed, it would require a love that casts out fear to hear, receive and act on the words these angels delivered.  Had God’s messenger not intervened, had Joseph been preoccupied, he may have inadvertently been excluded from being a key player in God’s remarkable plan. What God desired of Joseph was not that he follow the law of the land (which would have allowed Joseph to divorce Mary publicly), nor to be politely philanthropic (to show continued care and preserve Mary’s life and some shred of dignity).  He was being invited as Mary was (dare I say, as we are?) to move from memory to imagination, to enlarge reason with faith, to take a counter-cultural stand, to stand with God.

The invitation is to participation in Incarnation, an it is an invitation continually extended, even today.  That is what the waiting is for and it is not just about a baby born in Bethlehem (but oh what a beautiful image of vulnerability and interdependence – what tender, bold risk!), it is happening everyday; God with us, in us, around us. To receive and respond to such an invitation we need to listen and allow the spirit to supplement and surprise our intellect with the impossible possibilities of God; we need courage.

Advent is almost over, but it is ultimately a reminder, and one that does not lose its relevance with the changing of the season.  The waiting is not wrapped up once Christmas arrives, nor is it an indication of empty time standing in the way of a day that is grander than that which is present.  The waiting is a reminder to attend to this moment, to recognize Emmanuel, “God with us.”

So I am learning to listen to God who is always with us, not only on a particular day or in a particular place, but on every day, in every place.  And to listen to my heart, attending to its quakes and whimpers. What voices are countering the echoing instruction, “do not fear”?  What inhibitions obstruct from taking part in God’s extraordinary vision?  Where am I blinded by lack of imagination?  What sights and sounds are keeping me so distracted that I’ve no longer eyes to see and ears to hear?

This is the time. Wait, be still, listen.

Footnote: 1. Scripture references from Matthew 1:19-20, ESV.

hot desert heartache

"Dry Land" by Julia Walsh, FSPA

It’s confusing in this lenten desert. It’s not my home, but yet here I am.  It’s hot, bare and dirty.  My desire for lenten thirst and contemplation drew me here, but now I don’t know what to do with myself.  The creatures are unfamiliar, the thorns scare me.  I don’t even know how to sit comfortably.  How can I know God in this strange place?

I try to listen to God in the strange seeming stillness. But, really, I find that I can’t sit still.  My gaze and my movement is away from God in the quiet. Or, is it?

I find that it’s impossible to contemplate God’s presence and ignore the cries of the world.  I worry about the destruction and despair in Japan.  I learn of more bombings and gunfire in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine and between gangs in the USA.  I know too many young people whose dreams are and growth is  impacted by instability within their homes.  I am flooded with prayer requests for people’s health, relationships, job-searches and economics.  I know that many people are desperately struggling for their survival.  I feel overwhelmed with the truth of injustice, suffering and pain. Tension flares within me as I hear that our government is about to shut down.  How can this be okay? How many people will suffer even more just because our elected leaders can’t come to some sort of compassionate compromise?

What caused us to get into this great big mess?  What has happened to our global interdependence and national unity?  I’ve studied the causes of social problems and I can’t say that the fact that we are driven by fear, greed and power-struggles gives me any hope.

I’m getting kind of grumpy in this desert.  In prayer I whine about how the lenten challenge of facing the ugly can help me gain faith.  It doesn’t make sense and the confusion gets thicker.  I listen a bit more.  Then God reminds me of the Word.

Will not the day of the LORD be darkness and not light, gloom without any brightness?  I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings.   Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts,  then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream-Amos 5: 20-24

Oh yeah!  This desert is a place of remembering, and I finally am.  We do all this- all this tough Gospel stuff- because our message shall shower the land with freedom.  Streams of great water flow through the land and renew and restore all.

I feel like I am trying to see in the dark but the sun is shining.  It’s not really that gloomy and ugly, it’s just not my ordinary.  I begin to notice the life that is blooming through the dusty landscape.  With God, the darkness and the light are one.

I am not to drown out the pain with cheerful music or simple sacrifice, Amos said.  Instead, I am to dance in the dark to the beautiful songs of justice and goodness and let those waters wash me clean.  The sacred desert is engaged with the world, all my actions there matter.  This desert is my home, after all.