From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
Part Two: Preparation and Laboring With God’s Promises
The psalmist pleads with God, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long,” (Psalms 25:4-5). In the earnestness of this prayer we get some sense of what waiting means for this psalmist. It is not a passive waiting on God but a waiting that anticipates growth, development, and guidance. Even when the waiting period is painful the psalmist can pray for openness to what God desires him to learn within this space.
When the circumstances of our lives suggest that God is calling us to a season of waiting, we rarely put all other aspects of our lives on hold. Waiting on God is not a call to quiet resignation and thumb twiddling. Rather, even as we might be called to quiet reflection, we are also invited to wait on God while pursuing our other activities and commitments. The Advent texts suggest that inherent in the waiting season is a season of preparation where we have the opportunity to sit with God’s word and to pay attention to other ways in which God might be calling us to grow. Each season of our lives provides opportunities for us to discover new and continuing ways that God is speaking to us, guiding us, and teaching us.
Mary, Elizabeth, and John offer ways to imagine what preparing and laboring with God’s word might look like in different circumstances. Sometimes we are called to prepare though relationships with one another. Sometimes we prepare by shedding old thoughts and practices in order to live into new ones that lead to fuller life. These possibilities take time to experience, and God’s timing is different than ours. Usually we think of God’s timing despairingly because we assume we know what’s best for us. But the scripture passages for the third week of Advent suggest that what we perceive as slowness of action is actually God’s patience with us. God graciously affords us the time we do not even acknowledge we need to prepare us for God’s coming in Christ Jesus and for God’s blessings all along the way.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withers, the flower fades: because the spirit of the Lord blows upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
O Zion, that brings good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that brings good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Advent preparation manifests itself in how we cultivate habits of waiting “for these things” – for God’s coming, for our full communion with God, and for other things unique to our circumstances. To live “without spot or blemish” is not a call to perfection this side of Heaven. That is something no human, except for Christ, could ever attain. Rather, it is a call to acknowledge the spaces in our lives where God may be inviting us into abundant living but which necessitate shifts in our perspectives, attitudes, and behaviors.
John the Baptist calls us to seek repentance. In attempting to live without spot or blemish, we are called to turn from our misdirected ways of living; from the daily habits and thought patterns that tempt us to deny Christ is Lord, God is good and able, and God’s word is unfailing. As we wait, we rely on God’s Spirit to keep us turning ever so slightly each day toward God, shifting our crooked ways straighter, as we align ourselves with God’s vision for kingdom living. Yes, this is hard work; but we cannot bypass the message of Isaiah 40. God does not expect us to set our own ways straight by our own efforts or good intentions.
“He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” The prophet paints a striking image for this season of Advent. God is fittingly portrayed as a mother caring for her young in the most intimate way, carrying them upon her breast. Such an image can greatly alter the way we see ourselves before God while we wait. We seem prone to imagine God as a stern judge or a distant surveyor. But a mothering image connotes a deity devoted to our well-being, committed to nurturing and remaining present with us. Beyond the comfort and care a mother offers, this image also invites us to think of other motherly attributes God might hold. How would it change the way we wait if we imagine a God who labors with us, bears us, delivers us, and endures us as a mother with child? When a child is under duress of any sort how much more does the mother ache alongside her offspring, even if she knows that everything will work out in the end?
Loving God, we cannot deny the challenge of waiting on you. We cannot deny the way you love us as a mother loves her child. Remind us, as we wait on you and for you, that we are not alone in our challenges and anticipation. Amen.