A bunch of stuff came up at almost the last minute on Sunday, from the ridiculous (I forgot to get a blue stole out of storage in the sacristy) to the sublime (serious pastoral situation), and so I was running a little behind. “Better hurry, it’s almost time,” someone said, and I assured her I would be ready in time, if just barely. “And I’m pretty sure they won’t start without me,” I added.
And sadly realized—as I prepared to go preach an Advent sermon about waiting for new things to happen, which also touched on my own retirement—that old joke is one more thing I’ll be letting go of after March 1.
What are the holiday traditions that mean the most to you?
In our family, it’s the man of the house who makes the Christmas cookies. I’ve never had the time or the patience to get involved. Our kids used to help when they were still home, but then they grew up and moved away. Now it seems there’s a new generation ready to step in and lend a hand. She paid careful attention all through the process, and was most helpful when it came time to eat them.
We had a house full of company over the long Thanksgiving weekend, which is why I wasn’t here last Sunday. I wasn’t out looking for another job. Father Ditterline was kind enough to cover so I could concentrate on being with my family, and it was a real joy to have both of my children at home, including my daughter who lives in California and, of course, it was a joy to have our granddaughter at our house for several days. Her language skills are just exploding these days, and she has a lot to say about everything.
She just turned two at the beginning of November, but I wouldn’t call her a terrible two—although we did notice that if there’s something she wants, she does think she has to have it right away. She does not like to wait.
Waiting isn’t easy for two-year-olds, and to tell you the truth, it isn’t always easy for us adults, either. I don’t like waiting in lines in stores, I don’t like waiting in traffic. And not too long ago, I spent more than 30 minutes sitting in a doctor’s examining room, and I can tell you that I did not appreciate that at all.
So today in church we begin an entire season devoted to waiting, the season of Advent, and the funny thing is that I really love it. I think that Advent might be my favorite season of the church year. I cherish the peace and quiet that comes to us just as the whole world is ramping up for Christmas. I love that contrast of Advent, the fact that it’s not a commercial holiday even though as a society, it seems, we just can’t wait. We can’t wait for Christmas.
“Advent, then, calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognizes and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever present actions, that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, that yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now. It is this to which Advent beckons us, and without it our Christian journey is impoverished.”
~ Paula Gooder, “The Meaning is in the Waiting”
I looked for a short passage that would demonstrate how wise this book is, but I couldn’t find one. I’d have to quote a page and a half at least to convey its depth; I think it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever read about Advent.
Gooder makes sense of Advent waiting in a way that’s new to me—though possibly I’m the last to catch on? She says Advent isn’t just about preparing for Christmas, in the sense of amending our lives and purifying our hearts, though of course it is that, too. It isn’t just about remembering the past or looking to the future in the way we usually associate with this season.
Advent also teaches us to understand the value of the present moment. Even if we’ve not yet arrived in the future we so eagerly anticipate, that isn’t the point. In the meantime we aren’t meant simply to sit and wait for something to happen. We aren’t here just to kill time.
The “now” is where we live our lives, where we walk with God, where it’s all happening for us. When we understand that, when we learn to wait in a way that doesn’t deny the importance of the present, then we’ve learned the true lesson of the season.
It’s a strange story we tell, with its insistence that in life there is death, and in death there is life. Never is that more evident than on the first Sunday of Advent.
You were expecting maybe a pregnancy announcement, a happy invitation to the biggest gender reveal party of all time?
But no, what we get instead is the stark warning that “people will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” Not the happy words people want to hear to kick off this month of holiday joy, as any preacher can tell you.
In death there is life, and in life there is death.
Tombstone of Mary Belle Farmer, died May 5, 1910, at the age of 31. Mount Zion Cemetery, West Cape May, New Jersey.
One of my favorite poems. A little late, since it already feels like winter is on us:
Nearing the start of that mysterious last season
Which brings us to the close of the other four,
I’m somewhat afraid and I don’t know how to prepare
So I will praise you.
I will praise you for the glaze on the buttercups
And the pearly scent of wild fresh water
And the great cross-bow shapes of swans flying over
With that strong silken sound of wings
Which you gave them when you made them without voices.
And I will praise you for crickets.
On starry autumn nights
When the earth is cooling
Their misty diminutive music
Repeated over and over
In the very marrow of peace.
And I will praise you for crows calling from the tree-tops
Which was the speech of my first village,
And for the sparrow’s flash of song
Flinging to me in an instant
The joy of a child who woke
Each morning to the freedom
Of her mother’s unclouded love
And lived in it like a country.
And I praise you that from vacant lots
from only broken glass and candy wrappers
you raise up the blue chicory flowers.
Thank you for that secret praise
Which burns in every creature,
And I ask you to bring us to life
Out of every sort of death
And teach us mercy.
Another shot rediscovered from last summer in NYC. The Human Structures sign refers to the colorful sculpture which is mostly out of the frame to the right, but I think it could also apply to the way Selfie Guy just to the left is busy using the camera on his phone to construct a version of himself and his friend. Some might question the authenticity of that endeavor, but I think meaning-making is a valid and ongoing project in all its forms, including selfie-making.
What is my life really all about? What’s most important to me? What inspires me? What do I aspire to? When you think about it, trying out answers to those questions is a big part what Facebook and Instagram are all about.
If you had to summarize, what does your Facebook wall say about you? What do you think mine tells you about me?