From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. (Luke 1:53)
We assume the time John the Baptist spends waiting and preparing in the wilderness is in order to steep his identity in God. From before John’s conception, God has claimed his life. John’s primary identity will always be in relation to Jesus and in how John lived out his call to ministry. Someone like John is always bound to make people, including us, uncomfortable because his existence points us away from ourselves and toward the Kingdom of God. We do not naturally and without some inner resistance make the shift from self to God. John’s life and ministry compels us to consider the question, “What are we truly waiting for in this Advent and in our lives?”
Our personal longings, for which we beseech God and wait on God’s answer, are valid; but we remind ourselves that God’s self-revelation and promised fulfillment is always intended for healing and reconciliation in the larger community. We must ask ourselves how we can hold vigil for the groaning of humanity that is larger and more expansive than our own. How do we learn to sync up with our personal stories with the Story and stay open to being subsumed by God’s work in the world? This is ultimately what Elizabeth and Mary have to contend with as their children grow up. Elizabeth and Zechariah have longed for and prayed for a child their entire lives. God answered their prayers but not simply for their personal satisfaction. John was indeed a source of deep joy for his parents as the angel Gabriel had pronounced, (Luke 1:14). Yet we do not remember John primarily as the blessed answer to prayer or the miracle child of Elizabeth and Zechariah; we remember him as the one who came to prepare the way for the Son of God. Elizabeth’s hunger was only satisfied in God’s ensuing plan to satisfy the deep hunger of the world.
So where does this leave us? How might we think about the things for which we personally long and wait? What does God’s desire for a reconciled and healed world have to do with our desire for children, companionship, vocational fulfillment, and other yearnings? This question has no easy or definitive answer. There is nothing wrong with having our particular deep desires and prayerfully laying them before God. We were created to flourish in the gift of God’s world while waiting for the fullness of the kingdom. Yet we remain open to having our desires trumped by what God may invite us into for the sake of fostering God’s kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Elizabeth and Zechariah bear witness to how our deep desires can match up with God’s desires for us. But God’s longings for us always seem connected to a bigger picture that includes others. From what we see in scripture, God’s story always makes room for those whom society wants to push to the margins for all sorts of reasons. Part of waiting in Advent involves wrestling with the tensions we discover as we let God’s desires speak into ours.
Lord, make us willing to hold and nurture the desires you plant within us. Amen.