When Advent doesn’t look the way you hope

Photo by Dan Kiefer on Unsplash

Advent, for me, seldom looks the way I think it should. And, as I wrote two weeks ago, though I often find it uncomfortable, that uncomfortable place is usually precisely where the grace is.

This year is no different. 

I began Advent with anticipation, and with a plan to read through Malcolm Guite’s Advent devotional, Waiting on the Word. I didn’t expect the restlessness that would arise, the recurrent moments when, even though I’d chosen that plan and wanted to mark Advent, some other part of me would resist lingering with the reading, reaching for a detective story instead. 

How is it that, even in this month of preparation for one of the holiest events of the church year, I find myself once again saying with Paul, “I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge” (Rom 7:22-23, The Message)?

And yet, right here, once again, is grace, because instead of keeping the Advent story’s good news at a comfortable distance, reading the words and singing the songs, I find myself clinging to it for dear life. 

Right here in the awareness of my own need and my inability to fix myself is the starting place for the real living of Advent, the awe and the gratitude and the kneeling at the manger because God knows me and still He comes. Long before he entered the world as a baby, he knew my beauties and my failures and that I couldn’t fix myself, and instead of condemning or rejecting me, he came to be with me and to do in me what I can’t do in myself.

And, more than this, He comes not only for me, He also comes through me, choosing to live His life in me for the blessing of the world.

It’s been like this since the beginning, when He came through people who were as messed up as any of us. He isn’t ashamed to be known as the Son of David—a man after God’s own heart, to be sure, but also one who in the heat of passion not only committed adultery but murdered the husband of the woman he had stolen. He came through the line of Jacob the deceiver and Rahab the prostitute and Abraham, who, in fear, said that his wife was his sister, causing her to be taken into another man’s harem. He comes, now, into the world through you and me.

It’s right in this place where I feel most strongly my need for God that I’m most truly able to live Advent, to give myself over to God, just as I am, for him to come and live in me and through me and with me, doing in me what I can’t do.

I recognize the grace of answered prayer here too: I’d wanted not only to mark Advent, but to live it deeply. I’d prayed for God to make Himself a little more at home in me, to set me a little freer to be His alone, living in Him and with Him and for Him. Seems like that’s precisely what He’s doing in letting me see all over again both my desperate need for Him and His gracious love that brings Him right into the middle of my need and my longing. 

The Adventure of Advent


I smile at the photo Mom sent of Dad enjoying the little person on his lap. Mom and Dad had a call hours after Dad had hand surgery. A friend of a friend was at an Indian airport on his way to Canada with his wife and young child and they didn’t have a place to stay when they arrived in 2 days time. Did Mom and Dad have any ideas? And so the little one arrived with her parents and together they spent their first days on Canadian soil at my parents’ home. I smile again when I read Mom’s email and see how what could have been an overwhelming first day for this little girl’s mother in a new land became, instead, a day filled not just with challenge but also with laughter as the challenges were shared by someone familiar with the landscape of life here:

“. . . it is really quite busy around here!  An incredible day for Anaya’s* first full day in Canada too!  We just had to laugh with all the challenges.  Power went off just as she was preparing the Indian omelette for breakfast.  Then she wanted to come to the store with me, so she put on Caroli’s down coat from Afghanistan and helped me brush the car, laughing and shaking her head at snow and how long it takes to get wet snow off the car.  Then discovered all the traffic lights and stores were out of power but it took us a while to get through the gridlock and back home. Then [our eldest grandson] arrived for lunch (because his college was out of power) and stayed the afternoon, etc. so now (after very late supper) Dad and I are on our way to bed (leaving them up since they slept this afternoon- with the jet-lag).  Baby was awake from 2-4 last night. But it somehow all feels fun thanks to God’s peace and strength, and they are very grateful. We think they are hoping to have their place by Saturday or Sunday so we’ll see what God has in mind!

As I read Mom’s email, I felt like I was seeing in pictures a line from Malcolm Guite’s Advent and Christmas devotional, Waiting on the Word. I’d pulled the book off my shelf a few days early, unable to wait until the start of Advent to begin to savour the rich layers in Guite’s book. In the introduction Guite reminds us that while during Advent we often focus primarily on the first coming of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem and his final coming in glory as King, these two comings frame the time in which we live, a time filled with many other advents.

“’Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age,’ says Jesus. ‘Whatsoever you do unto the least of these, you do it unto me’; ‘This is my body, this is my blood.’ In our encounters with the poor and the stranger, in the mystery of the sacraments, in those unexpected moments of transfiguration surely there is also an advent and Christ comes to us. Perhaps that is why the other sense we have of the word ‘advent’ is to find it beginning the word ‘adventure.’” (Malcolm Guite, Waiting on the Wordp. ix-x, bold mine)

Adventure. Yes. That’s one descriptor for the story Mary entered when she gave her yes to mothering the Son of God. And it seems a pretty good summary of the life we enter when we, along with Mary, give God our yes. Adventure. There’s room in the word for courage and laughter, seeking and finding (and sometimes feeling a bit lost on the way), suffering and perseverance and hope. An adventure is not predictable. It involves risk. That can even be part of the fun of it—at least when we know we’re accompanied by a trustworthy Guide who knows the landscape well and will be with us every step of the way.
__________
*Not her real name

The God of surprises

Since mid-November when my landlady told me she’d sold the condo in which I was living, I’ve been looking without success for a new place to live. A week ago I saw an apartment that seemed perfect. It was big enough but not too big. The old, tiny kitchen didn’t bother me, and I loved the living space that was separate from the bedroom. The suite was bright, the building was secure and the manager who showed me around treated me like a human being instead of the next head of cattle being herded through and inspected. And, best of all, if you drew a circle between the homes of four of my good friends, it put me right in the middle of the circle, only a few blocks away from each.
I submitted my application. None of my references was called. A follow-up email led eventually to a response that my application has been rejected. The listing remains posted. It has been hard not to feel like I was automatically rejected because my primary source of income is disability insurance. And hard not to think that if I’d still been practicing medicine, I’d likely have been a shoe-in. Except that I probably wouldn’t have been applying at all because I’d own a home rather than needing to rent one. I don’t blame the owners. I recognize in their desire for the most secure option the similar desire that lives in me.
So when I received the email, I cried out (again) to the God who defends those in need and provides for his people. I’m in that graced place where it’s easier than usual to stake all my hope on God because there’s nothing else for me to cling to. I appear to be at the mercy of others, which really means that I’m at the mercy of my kind and gracious God who holds in his hand the hearts of kings and apartment owners and building managers.
I grieved the disappointment. I lamented. And then I turned again to the truth of this fifty-day-long season of Easter in which we’re living. I need every one of these days to remember the reality of resurrection and to practice living in the hope that George Herbert and Malcolm Guite describe in my new favorite Lent devotional, saying: “From now on there is just the single, eternal day of resurrection” (p.174). Jesus has been raised, death has been conquered, and there’s no turning back. The new reality is the unshakeable, forever reality. Here in this season I practice remembering: There is always hope. God is the God of wild and crazy, ridiculous, impossible surprises. The God whose ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts.
I’ll continue the alternating pattern of crying out and returning to hope; of lamenting loss and puzzling over confusion and choosing to trust the God of resurrection. Because as certainly as there is now “just the single, eternal day of resurrection,” in this world we do not yet live the full freedom of that new life. Here and now, resurrection is a taste and a certainty and a hope that holds us through the pain of all our little and big deaths. Resurrection follows each big and little death; it doesn’t prevent them. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus says. “But take heart. I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And Paul explains, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:10). We who are joined to Christ in his death experience the pain of our own big and little deaths on our way to living fully and forever united to him in his resurrection.  We groan and cry and lament. And then we turn and see Jesus appear to two confused and grieving disciples on the road to Emmaus, call Mary by name in the garden, and cook breakfast on the beach for his closest friends. None of them knew him at first. That didn’t keep him away. And so we can rest again in the certainty that even in the moments when we are blinded by our grief, the smallness of our faith, or the simple fact of our humanity, the risen Jesus still walks among us, quietly working resurrection surprises within us and around us and even through us.
 

________________

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash