It’s been one of those days – the kind where what you thought the day would, or should, look like is nothing like what it actually does. The kind of day that makes you want to distract yourself with a movie, or a puzzle or a glass of wine, all of the above or to just lie down and let sleep bring an hour of blissful ignorance.
And it’s not just me. A sibling just lost a job, a grandparent is struggling to face the unknown of an illness that may or may not be life-threatening, and a friend just gave birth to a premie after an unexpected pregnancy and is facing a very uncertain future. To top it off, one of my kids is home sick and so the list waiting for me from before Thanksgiving is pushed back yet again. The unknowns and unexpecteds can be overwhelming, frustrating, disheartening.
That is why instead of changing course on my to-do list for the day, it is not the time to avoid writing this column about Advent – it is actually the perfect time.
The story of Christmas is just that for most of us, a story and almost a fairy tale at that. We know the characters and what to expect. There is no unknown for us, no real suspense in waiting and watching our salvation unfold.
But for the Jews, who had been waiting centuries for God to make good on his promise of a better future, of the Messiah, “it was one of those days…” The people of Israel had been through so many ups and downs, bright spots and decimating darknesses that I imagine sleep and distractions were also very tempting.
If we could, try and read the Gospel of Luke really as if it were the first time we ever heard about the barren couple Elizabeth and Zechariah whose life was turned upside down, the innocent maiden Mary, who was almost literally turned inside out to hear news that she was to be the mother of God, impregnated by the Holy Spirit and then on the verge of being divorced by her betrothed, who himself had had the rug pulled out from under him.
Fast forward, slowly, through the consternation of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, doing what needed to be done at a high cost, and then arriving with nowhere for Mary to deliver this child of God. Talk about circumstances ripe for despair and feelings of helplessness.
That is Advent. That waiting for things to make sense. That intense desire for resolve, peace and order. That deep longing to know that it’s all going to be okay.
Waiting, desiring, longing. It is expecting, anticipating, hungering, craving, holding on, sitting tight, supplicating, pining, seeking, entreating, languishing, yearning, hoping, wishing.
We have all had moments described by those feelings and experiences. Once those stormy times are over, we’d rather focus on calmer seas and sunny shores. But as John the Baptist challenges in the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, preparing the way for the Savior isn’t all tinsel and tree trimmings, melodies and merry-making.
At least, not yet.
The Gospel of Luke’s account in chapter 3 includes more of Isaiah’s prophecy, which John the Baptist fulfilled:
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Physically, those are highly involved calls. Making a path straight, filling in a valley, leveling a hill and smoothing a rough way. Each requires diligence, perseverance, resilience, resolve – certainly all made easier with the help of others and in the spiritual realm, only possible with true and tested virtues of faith, hope and love.
As I sit today, the cold is biting and the darkness seems to set in a little early, but I can’t help but thank God for the
opportunity to dive a little deeper into Advent. To let those adjectives wash over me and to embrace feeling a little helpless and hopeless.
Because if I can more full live the vigilance of Advent – staying awake, getting my hands dirty straightening and smoothing, filling in and leveling my heart and mind – the joy and glory of Christmas will be mine in fuller measure.
The Gospel characters did not how the story unfolded. They didn’t even know the next chapter.
Let us ask Mary and Joseph to accompany us in a special way this Advent, so that when Christmas dawns, we may experience even a fraction of their sense of wonder and awe as the angels burst into the utter darkness with their radiant light, the humble shepherds accept the invitation of a king and wise men humble themselves with the faith that a child is the way.
And that He makes everything okay, because He walks with us into the unknowns and unexpecteds still ahead.