It’s Advent again. Not Christmas. Advent. It is a time of waiting in certain darkness; a time of reflection and preparation for the coming of something bigger than what we can even imagine.
Every year, I want to fully participate in the Season of Advent by preparing an Advent wreath, making sure the Advent calendar is up and ready, knowing the prayers to say and when to say them, participating in the Advent Evensongs available at many different parishes. My intentions are good.
Yet every year, there is no wreath. The calendar finally makes its way onto the wall by the second week of Advent…maybe. Two Sundays in Advent have now passed and no Evensongs. There have been no evenings gathered around the table to offer our prayers.
Always a time of darkness for me, this year that certain darkness has overwhelmed me fully. My first desire is to curl up in a corner, pull the covers over my heard and just be – inert, unknowing, silent, unnoticed. Everything beyond that desire is done only with the greatest of will. I am simply functional…doing all that I do as need be…all else is less is simply a weak wish.
Right or wrong, I often feel abandoned, lost, useless and scared. In a stage of waiting for the past ten years, the period has taken on a feeling of perpetual reality. I am acutely aware of the fact that what is is not what is to be. Yet…what is to be seems stuck somewhere like a giant hairball in a drain.
The waiting of Advent should be a time of quiet expectation, much like the time of pregnancy, full of hope of future potential. The small body growing within the mother’s womb, alive and kicking, lives in its own excited anticipation of that which is to come. In its darkness there is a shivery excitement, knowing that something huge is about to happen; within that vastness, a great awe is waiting to be witnessed.
Christmas, as the noisy world views it, looms like an empty promise – full of material crap that will be rendered inadequate or useless, broken and discarded within a short period of time. For those who have much, much will be given. For those who have little, little is not enough regardless of how welcome.
I read Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Advent message, “It’s a time to be still and listen, listen deep within to what is growing, ready to emerge into new life.”
Hearing the growth deep within is difficult because of that which is growing without. It is a scary world out there. As I sit at my table in front of my computer, hands chilly due to the thermostat being at 68 degrees, I know so well that there are those who are sitting outside in the 20+ weather waiting for a chance to get a cup of hot coffee, hopeful for a place to sit inside out of the cold. I know there are kids who go to school only because it is a place where they can get two meals whereas if they stay home they get far less or none.
I hear the cries of a desperate people, hungry for food and shelter. My own trials pale in comparison. Whatever my woes, these are disparate to those of others.
I can answer the Presiding Bishop’s questions of “What new concern is growing for the people around you? What new burden is on your heart for the woes of the world? What new possibility do you see emerging in the world around you, and how might you be a part of that?”
My concern is for the shallowness of a sacred time – the Holy shoved aside in a world that worships gold. I am concerned that those who have too much are blinded by their abundance; those who have too little are crushed in their lack. How much do we have to have before we realize how much we have in common, how much we have to lose? My burden, old yet always newly emerging, is that I cannot fix the woes of the world…understanding that these woes are not mine to fix. I am here simply to be the hands of Christ trying to love, feed, hug, shake the hand of the people of God, in this moment, in this sliver of time.
Yet, in all this desperation, I hear the profound faith of others – mostly in those seeking help. Greetings of “How are you?” are met with answers of “I am blessed!” regardless of financial woes or family burdens. The new possibility emerging in the world…it is the age old faith through adversity way of life. It is the understanding of the girl child Mary as she awaited the coming of her special son in a world that doubted her, doubted the special-ness of the birth. It is the acknowledgment that God is with us always even in the most dire circumstance. It is the belief in something so much larger than our imagination that is awaiting us.
It is that in which I want to be a part. I want the words “I am blessed” to be the first ones on my lips when greeted with the question, “How are you?” I want it to be such a natural part of me that it is said before I think it. It is not a frivolous statement but one born of that shivery expectation that God is with us and will always be.
I want the goosebumps and shivers of anticipation to wash over me. I want to revive that faith born of a deep and abiding hope so entwined within every fiber of my being as to be a natural part of existence. I want to live as though at any moment, that long awaited event is just about to happen.
Living in that way, I will give “evidence of love incarnate to the world” around me. Hope will survive.