Advent is the season of waiting for the birth of Christ. For your reading pleasure, below are several excerpts on the theme of waiting from a longer piece on being left-handed that I wrote in 2009.
…My soy candle burns often in these succeeding months since my January decision to live into this season of waiting. I sit in my roommate’s rocking chair in the afternoons when I come home early from work and wait, watching the light flicker and the shadows it casts on the blank white wall. The darkness of the unknown is overwhelming, but somehow that little light flickering on the table shines on. I am surprised to realize how desperately I cling to my candle these days, staring into the glow as my body relaxes and my heartbeat slows. I breathe to the same line of my meditative prayer I pray with Mary, the mother of Jesus, as she responds to the angel’s astonishing announcement that she will soon give birth to the hope of the world: let it be to me according to your word. I sit. I wait, even though I haven’t figured out what I’m waiting for. The wax is almost gone. The candle burns low. I am still waiting. When the light burns out, I will buy another alternative soy candle. I will keep waiting. It is not yet time to move on.
I found a carving I like of Jonah sitting in the whale, curled up like a child in the womb. I feel like an unborn child these days, being knit together in the darkness, waiting quietly in the secure warmth of the Mother for the birthing pains to come. Both the pregnant mother and the unborn child learn the same lesson—that waiting, far from the passive negation of responsibility and participation, can be the most active part of our spiritual journeys; it is during the waiting that we are moved, and it is only through the waiting that we can ever arrive at another place. I never really identified with the image of spiritual life as a journey. I always wanted to Get There Already, too impatient to appreciate the process. Ironic, then, that the process itself turns out to be the destination, for there is waiting at every stage of life; there is even waiting in death.
Mary and Martha turn up again in the book of John, and this time every character has been waiting. Mary and Martha waited for a miracle. Jesus waited for the appointed time. Lazarus, well, he just waited for death. When their waiting had come to fruition, once again, old weakness gave birth to new strength. The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus’ healings, but only Lazarus can claim to be raised from the dead. There is so much death in me waiting for new life. My old self, the person I used to be way back down the path, is gone for good. I have laid my pretense at left-brained living to rest in the tomb of my soul. But my new self, the person I can just glimpse up the way, waving at the next bend, that self is yet to be. Right now I am still awkward, fearful, silent. Right now I am still searching for my voice. I will journey on, but right now I wait and rest. I am resting in my weakness….
Sometimes we have to let disease and infirmity, the weaknesses of life, take over. Sometimes we even have to die and enter the tomb—rot there for days. Sometimes it is only after the rotting has begun, when we can make no mistake about the stench of our failure, that God chooses to arrive, to grieve, to breathe life in that miraculous moment when we are called by name and beckoned back into the story with those thrilling words: “Come out!” In my waiting I have discovered the gift of choice…. Even death can be a strength—or better, especially death—an opportunity for God to work in us a victory we cannot fathom. And then, the joy of new life, the joy of reunion. But first are the sickness, the dying, the tomb. Lazarus waited four days in his death. Four days of rotting flesh; four days of undeniable failure. Four days of total weakness as complete as the chaos of the waters before First Light—and then, the Voice of God.
God has been teaching me as I wait in the tomb (or is it the womb?). I am waiting to be revived (or is it reborn?). This waiting, the tension between movements, is like the moment in a balancing act when the tightrope walker pauses midway, gathering strength for the rest of the journey. This moment of rest is the most crucial element of the journey; we wait for that same appointed time…. Without the waiting, we rush on and on until–….
Advent is my favorite part of the liturgical year. I love the hymns, the candles, and the general atmosphere of “good cheer.” But what I love most is the reason-for-the-season: the birth of Jesus.
Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, and what I was most struck by during the sermon was a discussion of the names of Jesus we are given in scripture. There are many, but Matthew begins his gospel with the most important two: Jesus the Messiah and Immanuel, which means God with us. These names represent the good news Matthew was writing to share.
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). ~ Matthew 1:23 TNIV
The fundamental basis of Holistic Body Theology is our identity in Christ, who we are as the children of God. We receive our identity because of two theological truths: imago Dei and the incarnation of Christ.
We are only who we are because of who Christ is. We are only who we are because of what Christ has done for us — not only the death and resurrection of Christ but also the birth and life of Christ. Because God chose to come to us — physically, humbly, weakly, fleshly –, we have the opportunity to receive the gift of adoption into the family of God.
Advent is the perfect time to remind ourselves of what God has done for us — and to look forward to the continued activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
So this advent season, take the opportunity to dwell on just what it means to anticipate the coming of Christ into the world. Consider Henri Nouwen’s words in The Genesee Diary:
The expectation of Advent is anchored in the event of God’s incarnation. The more I come in touch with what happened in the past, the more I come in touch with what is to come. The Gospel not only reminds me of what took place but also of what will take place. In the contemplation of Christ’s first coming, I can discover the signs of his second coming. By looking back in meditation, I can look forward in expectation. By reflection, I can project; by conserving the memory of Christ’s birth, I can progress to the fulfillment of his kingdom….
I pray that Advent will offer me the opportunity to deepen my memory of God’s great deeds in time and will set me free to look forward with courage to the fulfillment of time by him who came and is still to come.
Happy Advent, lovely readers! May this season be full of joyful anticipation of connection with the God who created us and called us by name into the gracious, merciful, and loving family of God.
One of my favorite classes in seminary was Storytelling. One particular assignment we had for that class was to make up a story based on the painting handed to us. The painting I was given was a picture of the Nativity scene. Here’s the story I told as inspired by that scene.
My best friend Mary got married two and a half years ago, and about five weeks ago, she had a baby. Her husband left me a voicemail message in the middle of the night, and when I woke up in the morning and listened to the message, he just yelled, “It’s a girl! It’s a girl!” Now, I was a little frustrated with her because she is supposed to be my best friend and didn’t even tell me she was pregnant. We’ve fallen a little out of touch since I moved across the country, but I still expected to know about the milestones in her life.
I waited a few days to give them time to adjust to being new parents and then gave her a call back to get the whole scoop. We’ve always told each other all the gory details about everything, so I asked her what it was like having a baby. “How did it happen?” I asked. “Where were you when your water broke? What hospital did you go to? Tell me everything!”
I could hear the fatigue thick in her voice as she tried to answer my questions. Finally, she said, “You know, I’m so tired right now I can’t think of anything to tell you. I just remember this one moment. I had been pushing and screaming and screaming and pushing, and when she came out, before they cleaned her off or cut the cord or anything, the doctors just propped her up on my chest. In that moment, I could have done it again six times over. I was just so overwhelmed with emotion for my little baby.”
By this time, I was going to be late for my next class, and I knew she needed to take a nap while the baby was sleeping. “Well, I’ll talk to you later,” I said. I was about to hang up when I remembered my the most important question.
“Oh by the way, what’s your baby’s name?” I asked.
And she said, “Joy.”