Tag Archives: Advent

Finding God In Our Darkness.

I started working on a post at the beginning of last week for the second week of Advent. Writing now after midnight on Saturday, it’s clear I didn’t get there.

Catholic churches during Advent are subdued. There are no Christmas decorations to be seen, save a Giving Tree decorated with tags listing the name of a person and a suggestion for a gift. The color of the season, like three of the four candles on the Advent wreath, is purple. While Advent is a season of waiting, it’s also one of repentance. We repent because we’re aware that there is a difference between what we do, and who we say we are or want to be.

Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice. Three recent examples of this tension, or difference that folks in the U.S. are wrestling with. Who do we think we are? Who do we say we are? What do the actions of those who act on our behalf say? What does our discomfort with their actions say? What will we do? Anything? We are not yet who we wish to be.

Today is the two-year anniversary of the killing of twenty-six people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. In the last two years, there have been 23 more shootings in schools. We are not who we say we are. We are not yet who we wish to be.

Like many, I followed the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report on Tuesday. I found Andrew Sullivan’s live blogging of the report’s release gut-wrenching. As the self-proclaimed leaders of the free world, the report makes clear: We are not yet who we wish to be. How do we prepare the way of the Lord in this context? Where is God in our darkness?

That’s my question, and prayer. It may be yours as well. Certainly, it’s the prayer of the Brown, Garner, and Rice families. The prayer of the families of those who were killed in Newtown, CT. The prayer of the families of those who’ve been tortured in our name.

Where is God in our darkness? The Christian answer is a simple one. It’s so simple half the time Christians miss it completely. We think of Jesus as the one who defeated death. We claim Jesus’ triumph over sin, and forget his broken body that hung on the cross. We think of that triumph and forget the reminder in Matthew’s Gospel:

“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’” (Mt 25:37-40, NRSV)

By extension, our question might be, “Lord, when did we find you on the cross?” That’s where God was–it’s where God, is. Paul J. Nuechterlein in a wonderful Advent homily concludes:

“As long as there is suffering in this world, that is where God will be. And, when we learn to find God there and go to be with God there, then won’t the suffering finally end? If everyone learns to find God and to be with God among the suffering, then who will be left to cause the suffering? Then, when we all learn where to find God and where to be with God, then will that Christmas prophecy of Isaiah come to fulfillment: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness–on them light has shined. For unto us a child is born; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:2,6) Amen.”

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It’s Good To Give.

Every year I wrestle with what I’m going to do to keep the season of Advent. It’s a question because while the religious season of Christmas doesn’t begin until December 25th. That’s when our cultural celebration ends.

Not that I shy away from holiday festivities. Not at all. I go caroling with my neighbors. I bake cookies in seasonal shapes, and wear a Christmas tree hat as that day approaches. This past Saturday I visited Bryant Park in New York city, as well as Rockefeller Center with my kids. The tree is up and lit in Bryant Park. Rockefeller Center’s is up too, but won’t be lit until Wednesday. I won’t see it for a few weeks. I’ll have to wait. Waiting is what Advent is about.

The waiting is for the birth of Jesus, who has already come, and who Christians hope will come again. In a sense, Advent is like the last weeks of a pregnancy. You know the baby is coming, and it’s just a matter of time until she does. The tension I experience between Advent and our cultural celebration of Christmas is something like having baby shower after baby shower before the birth. When the child is born, everyone celebrates, then goes home. Try that with a family member!

One of the reasons I like all the trappings of red and green–even while my church is draped in solemn purple–is because of the way we’re encouraged to think beyond ourselves. While it’s easy to get bogged down finding just the right gift, I like the simple reminder of the season: it’s good to give.

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Advent’s Waking. You can’t imagine the future.

What’s a reasonable time to expect a reply to an email? How about a text message? A few weeks ago, I scolded a friend for leaving home without her cell phone. “How am I supposed to reach you?” I said. She apologized. Shame on me! She’s a Super-mom, yes, but there was no crisis that couldn’t be avoided without her intervention. For most of us, there rarely is. In my case, I wanted to see if we could meet for coffee… What’s that saying about folks writing about things they need to hear?

I was bothered, because I couldn’t make the plans I wanted. We do that a lot, I think. We complain. “I sent you that text an hour ago! Why didn’t you respond?” At the end of a day we hear, “Did you see the email I sent this morning? You didn’t answer.” Or, “Oh my God, it took me at least ten minutes to get through the line at Trader Joe’s!” and “I won’t even walk into a bank anymore. If there are more than three people at the ATM, I’ll move on.”

That’s living as if only fulfillment now, will satisfy. Good days become one’s where everything goes “my way” as a result. In contrast, the relationships we treasure, are typically filled with ups, and downs. They take time, attention, and work. They’re not finished products. Not at any given moment. Not ever. In fact, I would argue that our relationships are most at risk are when we think they’re everything we ever wanted them, to be. That, and when alone, we try to make them into something we always wanted them to become. The other day a friend of mine passed along these words, “Marriage is where you bet half your stuff that you’ll still be together in a future you can’t imagine.” Ha! I thought. That’s wonderful, and so true. You can’t imagine the future.

Life is our greatest adventure. One where our openness to surprise and wonder, to happiness even, is tied to our willingness to let go. Of the expectations of others, and of ourselves. Few people are as adept at twisting the knife as the reflection in the mirror. How it escapes panes of silvered glass, I’ll never understand! I’m not advocating that anyone stops responding to text messages (especially mine). I do think that we need to have more conversations about how much contact is too much. That’s ultimately about trust, and allowing yourself the freedom to be where you are. Certainly, if you’ve ever spent a meal with your cell phone on the table, periodically buzzing with updates and notifications that require your response, you know something of what I mean. You can’t imagine the future. What you can do, is be present, now.

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