Hello, Grace friends and neighbors! Your pastors are hoping to use this blog more and here’s a first attempt. This season, in Sunday sermons and pub theology, we’ve been doing lots of reflecting on the meaning of Advent. Here are a few more thoughts to add to the mix.
Grace is hosting a labyrinth on Fridays in Advent. I wander out to Wester Hall at lunch time, and it is quiet, so I decide to walk the labyrinth. This is the largest labyrinth I have walked before. I wind in and out, following the path; just when it seems I am close to the center, the path weaves outward again. (Just when it seems Christ is near, the detours and bumps of life make me wonder.) I am tempted to look up. I want to know where the path is taking me from here, how much longer until I reach the center. I am anxious to be somewhere, to have arrived.
Slowly I realize that Christ is just as near out here on the road as in the center. And when I do reach the center—a place to rest a moment, a place of peace, a place to recall my belovedness and simply to be—when I do reach the center, I realize that I would not have been ready for it without the 15 minutes of preparation. I would not have appreciated the space for stillness if I had not been walking so long. But now, I am here, and it is a great gift, a gift I will carry with me on the path back to the edges, back to my job and my life.
So it is with Advent. We want to be somewhere, to have arrived at Christmas. We want to count down the days till Christ has come, till all the hymns are “Joy to the World” instead of “mourns in lonely exile,” till family is gathered and school is out and the cookie jars and stockings are full.
But I suspect that without the preparation of Advent, we are not quite able to grasp the fullness of the mystery of Christmas. Without dwelling on our loneliness, we are not quite able to grasp what it means for God to dwell among us. Without grappling with our complacency and complicity, we can’t quite fathom the Prince of Peace. So we walk this labyrinth of the Advent season, slowly enough to take in the longings and confessions of our hearts. Slowly enough to deepen our understanding of the need for Christ to come.
Last year, the day before Thanksgiving, I found out I was pregnant. December was a time of cautious, secret expectation until we told family and close friends around Christmas.
I was too scared to be fully excited. Nothing was certain yet. We hadn’t heard a heartbeat or seen an ultrasound. I didn’t look any different and couldn’t feel any movement. I was queasy, weak, and exhausted, barely able to wrap my mind around the miracle that was ahead.
Despite fears and doubts and misgivings, I had to wait with hope and intention. The waiting changed the way I lived my body (no sushi and soft cheese!). It changed the way I thought about my job (should we move closer to my parents?), my home (I needed to start looking for a crib), my relationships (I reached out to old friends for baby wisdom). The waiting seeped into every aspect of my life.
So it is with Advent. The church year is pregnant with the coming of Christ, but sometimes it’s tough to see it. Sometimes we feel more heartsick over the current state of things. Sometimes we just feel spiritually disconnected. Nothing has changed yet. Still we are called to wait in hope. To prepare our hearts and homes to receive God-in-the-flesh.
This Advent, I’m pondering Mary’s preparation for Christ after she received news that she was to carry the Messiah.
I think of her taking the great journey, walking a hundred miles from Nazareth to the Judean hill country, to be with Elizabeth. A journey, I suppose, to be with someone else who might understand. Someone else who was also preparing to birth a prophet, who could help her prepare.
I think of her subversive and profound meditation, her “Magnificat.” My soul magnifies the Lord. Perhaps she had always studied the Scriptures; perhaps she had always looked for a coming Messiah; or perhaps it was only after being visited by an angel that she began to look more deeply into the promises of old. However it happened, it is clear that she began to understand the enormity of the change that was coming into the world through her. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
Above all, I think of the simplest and most profound act of preparation she undertook. Faced with the knowledge that her entire life would be thrown upside down, she said yes. Faced with the prospect of becoming an unwed pregnant woman, she said yes. Faced with the overwhelming and hard-to-comprehend idea that she was to be involved in God’s intricate design of salvation for the people, she said yes. Let it be with me, according to your word.
Perhaps for all of us, it starts that simply this Advent. Yes, there are journeys to take along unknown paths. Yes, there are changes to make to our daily routines. Yes, there are prayers to pray, Scriptures to study, systems to topple, injustices to confront as we prepare for our Messiah.
But it all begins with simply this: Yes, Lord. It is all too great and wonderful for me. I do not comprehend all your designs. But yes. I want you to make me ready. I want you to help me change. I am willing to take the first step on this journey of transformation. Let it be with me according to your word.
NOTE: If you’d like a little time for reflection yourself, all are welcome to walk the Labyrinth in Wester Hall on the two remaining Fridays in Advent. The space will be open Friday, Dec 14, from 11am to 4pm, and Friday, Dec 21, from 11am to 6pm.