Advent Invites Me…


I started writing a blog post about Advent. I actually haven’t written a blog post for over a year…maybe close to two years… (The reason for the lapse is another story…)  As I began to write, which is a long process for me, I noticed an outline of sorts that I liked. However, as I began to read what I had written, I noticed how impersonal it was. A very objective voice… as if I were sitting in judgment over the world with a shake of the head, and a three point outline to fix it. Instead, I will write of my own experience of the necessity of Advent, and what the events in my life and our world have shown me of the deep need the practice invites me to.

Oh….let me explain the term Advent for folks that haven’t had either a church background, or like me, in which their faith tradition didn’t practice the regular cycle of the Liturgical Church Year. (For more info about the Liturgical Church year: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgical_year ) Advent is the period of the calendar spanning the four weeks (read Sundays) before Christmas, and after Ordinary Days. I love the name and idea of Ordinary Days on the calendar. It spans the time between Pentecost and Advent. For the Christian fathers and mothers to give liturgical voice to everyday lives acknowledges God’s presence in all of our lives, not just specific days. We are invited to recognize the grace present in even the most common of activities, and we realize through the observance, that our daily interactions with each other are the most valuable critique of the veracity of our individually professed faith.

For me, Ordinary Days are filled with challenge, not only in the responsibilities I strive to fulfill, and the family relationships I try to foster in their peculiarities, but also in the realization that I often isolate myself. Although I have a “third place” in which I hang out infrequently throughout the week, I realize that my friendships are pretty surface, with little intimacy. My Ordinary Days have become rhythmic attempts to do my job, and escape loneliness. I hate making that statement, because I don’t like how it looks to an outside world, and the judgment I make of myself because of it colors my outlook. Yet I believe it to be true… Much of my life is spent in an inward direction, but also in hope of meeting a woman with which I can develop a romantic relationship. This seems a pretty shallow aim!

You see, for good and for bad, I have spent most of my life consumed with the intention to help other people. The way I was brought up communicated that Others were always more important than me. I interpreted this as God-ordained, and was the aim of being Christian. To do otherwise was selfish. As I have grown older, and experienced divorce, I have come to question such a myopic focus. Was that really what Jesus meant? I downplayed the things that brought me joy, in order to do what I perceived those closest to me wanted. It didn’t work! At least in my estimation, I have given away my most energetic years in an attempt to make somebody else happy. While I have tried to learn from that, and pursued higher education in a field that interested me; the result has been greater debt with no tangible vision of how I would use it to provide a sustainable income source, and pay back the loans. So I have adapted my aim to pursue my own business eventually.

My Ordinary Days are also filled with listening to the radio as I drive for work. I alternate listening to either sports talk radio or NPR. Each one tells me about what is going on in the world, in the playground which is sports, and in the greater world around me, filled with both beauty and great tragedy. I also read books…non-fiction mostly…about faith, and scripture, and life. I read for pleasure, but also because I think the information will eventually be useful in the future, when I….

And there is the rub…

…when I…

…when I…

What?

I have spent my life expecting to…DO something. Something of great value to others and the world around me. I imagined what it would be through the years:

I dreamed many dreams…

Envisioned many visions…

Imagined a beautiful future…

Yet ignored the present.

Advent has found me, and it seeks to form and inform me. Advent invites me to embrace:

Waiting…

Watching (and listening)…

And Wandering…

Waiting…

…is usually the word associated with the observance of Advent. The tradition of Advent reminds us that Israel waited for the Messiah through years of difficult Ordinary Days. After the exile, her prophets grew silent, and she became a token nation, passed around from Empire to Empire. All the while, her people tried to feed their families, eek out a modicum of joy in marrying and having children, and pass on a disappearing faith in a God that seemed to be silent to their cries for help. Yet, the Voices of the Prophets still spoke, or at least the memory of their voices still did. Elders still tried to pass the tradition of Passover to each succeeding generation. They continued to speak the warnings of the Prophets, originally spoken to the powerful and greedy of a previous generation; yet also to the powerful and greedy of every generation. What seemed to be increasingly hard to believe, were the promises of the Prophets which told of how Messiah would come to make things right. Each new year brought the same difficulty, or increased difficulty, not the Restoration which was promised so eloquently. I am sure that each new generation was tempted to allow the elders to speak the Promises, but let the words drift away into the silence of unbelief.

Belief?

Unbelief?

Those are always our options, aren’t they? For me, waiting introduces something tricky into the mix. There is a part of my mind that recognizes waiting as wasted time. My modern training says that I must plan my work and then work my plan. Simply choose a direction, a worthwhile goal, then develop a plan to accomplish it. It makes sense, and some people are able to make it work. But this hasn’t worked out well for me. When it hasn’t, I accept the blame for its failure. I have lived with a lot of self-induced blame. I mourn the failure. I ruminate on it. I try to learn from it. Then on to the next idea. Honestly, I can see value even in this process, except the blame part. I am often reminded that failure is part of the path to innovation, so I try to remember that…and…off I go again.

But….

What happens when you feel like you have come to the end…

of the ideas…

of the resources…

of the energy…

of your confidence…

of yourself…

What then?

That is when waiting becomes my biggest strength. My choice to believe the Promises of the prophets then becomes, not my way forward, but my place to stand… in this moment, and in this place. No expectations nor untried options left. Waiting is where I finally meet God. Or rather where God meets me.

Watching…

It is amazing how much I miss when I am moving. And when I combine the movement of my body with a moving mind… I might as well be blind! Waiting slows my pace to a standstill, and calls me to be attentive to the place in which I stand. It draws my mind from an imagined future which I expect to create, to the reality of right here, and right now. Waiting invites me to watch and listen to the life around me. In my movement…in my Ordinary Days…I am tempted to use my plans, and expectations of life as an intoxicant that numbs the dissonance of my everyday life. Advent invites me to lay aside my efforts to control my life, through which I ignore the pain and problem of the violence I see in the world; then watch, listen, and mourn. In a world where I am numb due to a created façade of self-control, I insolate myself to the truth of a world which seems out of control. I need Advent to remind me to mourn the injustice we create on our own when we neglect the search for how the Truth of God…the sovereignty of God…the peace of God…might be seen and joined in the world.

Listening is part of watching. It is easy to allow my ears to become deaf to the cries of those being subjugated by the Empire, when I am less affected. As a white man, it is easier for me to not listen to the angry shouts of African American men, especially when the police car drives around me on the street rather than following me closely. If I do not listen, I will expect my experience to be everyone’s experience. Listening, without argument, to another person’s perception of their reality gives me insight, if I will allow it. For listening is not only hearing with the ears, it is being attentive with the mind, not constructing a response, but turning loose of my mind’s attempt to explain the world in a way I prefer.

In fact, Advent invites me to live into the tension of the world, without jumping into the celebration of Christmas directly from my Ordinary Days, or demand that all the suffering I see and hear be hidden by glittery lights, bright wrapping paper, romantic evenings by the fireplace, or continuously playing Christmas music from October through January. I must remember the world into which the child was born. I must remember that Caesar demanded that taxes must be paid and directed people of the realm to return to their ancestral lands…which many no longer owned…to pay them and be counted… people defined as the commodities of a wallet and a number. I must remember that there was “no room” for Mary and Joseph…and the unborn Jesus…aside from a borrowed barn. But mostly, I must remember the years between the Prophets and the baby in the manger. That there were other professed “messiahs”, and a growing restlessness with whispers of rebellion against Rome. And before this, the Exile which uprooted the Jews and crushed their political independence. Then the rise and fall of empire upon empire with the people caught in the middle.

So…a world not unlike our own.

Advent invites me to watch and listen to the world around me now, the experience of those around me, and also to imagine the experience of those that have come before me. I need to realize the darkness which fights to surround, and overwhelm me. I must not ignore it nor jump over it, lest I contribute to it.

Wandering…

The theme of wandering runs through the entirety of scripture. It begins with the narrative of the first man and woman in Genesis after their run-in with the snake. Then it moves to their son, Cane. These stories connect wandering to disobedience to God.

The next wandering story is of Abram. His wandering at least begins as obedience. Abram’s wandering could at least partially be considered following… Following the direction of God to a place God would “show” him. And yet, after he arrives at the New Land, he finds a famine, so he leaves there and travels to Egypt. The scripture doesn’t specifically say that this act of wandering was following God…he just went.

The New Land was parched…

it became hard to live in…

there was no harvest…

no food…

Did God not see?

So, Abram developed a plan, and followed the plan to Egypt…

and Abram lied, in fear of Pharaoh…

Pharaoh took and married Abram’s wife…

Eventually Pharaoh figured out Abram’s wife was…Abram’s wife, not his sister…so Pharaoh gave her back, and sent them away.

How can you trust someone that is afraid?

I ask myself: “Did Abram know when his wandering was following God, or when his wandering was running in fear?”  If God lead him to a land in famine…where life was hard…wasn’t it still God’s New Land for him?

Advent invites me to examine my wandering and determine whether I am following God, or following fear. Can the New Land I am in be a hard land, yet still be the New Land God has lead me to? Am I able to trust the promise of God to Abraham that God will bless and protect me in order that I might be a blessing to those around me?

Then there is the wandering of Moses. Moses wandered in the wilderness for forty years…twice. The first time, Moses followed sheep. The second time, Moses followed God and lead sheep. Throughout the second wandering Moses battled fear, yet kept following God. Finally his following was cut short of the Old, New Land because his fear turned to anger toward the fear of the following sheep. He disobeyed God’s instruction, and made his leadership about himself, rather than God…or the sheep. His fear/anger isolated him from the sheep as they entered the Old, New Land.

Advent invites me to ask if my frustration with the chaotic world around me causes me to withdraw in pain and anger so I neglect to enter the New Land where God is leading me. Do the actions of others determine how I respond to God? I am single again this Christmas, though I would prefer not to be. Can I live into the difficulty of that, still trust that God is good, wants to bless me, and make me a blessing…yet still live a full life and believe God’s promises?

“O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lowly exile here

Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee,

O Israel.”

John M. Neale- 1851

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