“For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Corinthians 4:6 NRSV)
Here is my friend Cindy O’s calendar.
My husband Andy and I flew to Seattle yesterday to spend Christmas with our son and two and a half year-old granddaughter. The trip was supposed to take 7 hours; it took 11 1/2 hours. Because of weird weather and missed connections, we spent hours waiting in airports. Though not normally patient people, we knew holiday travel snafus were a possibility, so we planned some waiting activities–a NY Times crossword puzzle, copies of Time Magazine and the New Yorker, a nice meal in a decent airport restaurant, walks around A, B, C, D, and E terminals….
As I was waiting I also read an Advent meditation called Waiting for God by Henri Nouwen from the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. A couple of excerpts mirror our experience from yesterday:
“The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us….Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there.”
Nouwen suggests that Mary and Elizabeth in their pregnancies formed a community of active waiting.
“They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for…..This is what prayer is all about. It is coming together around the promise. This is what celebration is all about. It is lifting up what is already there.“
This “lifting up what is already there” is why I need a regular worshiping community and a group of friends with whom I gather in hope, promise and celebration rather than in my default mode of cynicism and fear. I was grateful to have a partner, a mini-community in the airport experience of waiting.
Paraclete Press asked its authors to create a two-minute video on “What Advent Means to Me.” I include it here, not because I think it’s good, but because it embarrasses me to watch it. I wanted it to be more playful, more dancy, less intense, less inhibited, more articulate, more polished…. But if I waited to capture that perfect performance I would never risk doing it at all. Like my Advent waiting, this video is active, but imperfect. Click on the picture to view the video.
Week two of Advent has not been just a remembrance of the despair and darkness felt by our Judeo-Christian ancestors; it seems more like a re-enactment. I am not a person who cries easily, I have sometimes wondered if there is something wrong with me or my tear ducts. But this week has undone me. Tears have been my daily response and maybe God’s daily gift to me.
In Memphis, there was a critical-condition shooting of two police officers on Friday morning. Martoiya Lang, a young female officer with four children, died. Just after the MPD shooting hit the news, the terrorism in Connecticut was announced. I can only imagine the suffering of the families; I cannot know it. My tears have given me an inkling of Jesus as the suffering servant and of the astonishing compassion of a God willing to become incarnate and subject to this suffering.
I keep hearing a song the Memphis Men’s Chorale sang a couple of weeks ago at the annual AID’s Healing Service. It is called The Prayer of the Children. The words were written when the civil war in Yugoslavia broke out by an LDS missionary named Kurt Bestor, who had served in Serbia in the 1970’s. The words of the first verse seem eerily appropriate to Friday’s’s horror.
Here is the first week of my Advent calendar. I love the daily discipline of praying this way–especially when I manage to get up at 5 AM and sit at the table in the dark with only the lights of the candles on the Advent wreath.
Here is my friend Cindy O’s calendar. Cindy and I have both been drawing Advent calendars for the past five years.
Advent is my favorite time of the year. I’m even somewhat of an Advent fundamentalist. I like the waiting, the preparation, the darkness, the melancholy,….I want it to last for its full twenty to twenty-four days. And then I want to celebrate with gusto all twelve days of Christmas from December 25 to January 5.
I know I can’t change the culture that puts up Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving (or before) and plops them on tree lawns on December 26. It’s not my job or my business to convince anyone to turn back the clocks to some previous era. But I can orchestrate the way my family and I celebrate Advent in our house. Purple lights on the front porch and purple candles on the Advent wreath remind me to slow down and hold back. The Christmas tree, even if it is in the house, remains undecorated until at least December 20th. These self-imposed traditions extend, expand and enrich for me the three-pieces of the Nativity triptych–Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.They help me enter into the experience of the longing for, the coming of and the shining forth of the Savior.