From Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent
Part Three: Trusting and Receiving God’s Word
Trusting God is a daily discipline that cannot be dependent on how we feel. There will be countless times when we do not feel like trusting because circumstances seem insurmountable. Yet, we will ourselves to claim the truth of God’s trustworthiness because we claim the truth of God’s unchanging character. Scripture and community are indispensable to our waiting seasons. Scripture holds countless testimonies of God’s enduring faithfulness throughout the history of God’s people. It holds countless stories of people just like us who received God’s word and struggled to trust God’s word and often tried to take matters into their own hands when God seemed to be moving too slowly. Meditating on these stories exercises our faith muscles and reminds us that waiting on God is common to the human condition.
The power of a believing community can do wonders in how we wait in hope. A community helps us discern how God calls us and speaks into our lives, keeping us accountable to spiritual integrity and affirming or challenging our discernment as necessary. It is important to have people with whom we can prayerfully share our spiritual journeys and who can help us name the new realities that God might be birthing in our lives. A community can support us as we name these new realities and learn to live into our expanding or changing sense of identity as flourishing children of God.
Part of receiving God’s word comes in learning to offer thanksgiving even as we anticipate the fullness of things to come. Expressing our gratitude is an act of asserting our belief that God is true to God’s word. It is also a means of cultivating the type of spirit that recognizes the fitting response to God’s act of love. As we move into the fourth week of Advent, we can’t be thankful for much. During this week, we transition from waiting to celebrating Jesus’s birth and the season of Christmas.
God is indeed faithful to God’s promises. The risk of expectant waiting is proven beautifully worthwhile.
When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing: then said they among the heathen, the Lord hath done great things for them. The Lord hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad. Turn again our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the south. They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
In the whirlwind of holiday activity, we can easily forget that the characters of the Advent and Christmas narratives were nothing like us. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, John, and, yes, even Jesus were Middle Eastern people of a lower socioeconomic class than most of us reading this book. Furthermore, as an ethnic and religious people they were marginalized from the mainstream Roman culture and looked upon disdainfully by government and high church officials. The Jewish people were rooted in a history of oppression and they were awaiting a messiah who would usher in a new Heaven and Earth by rescuing them from the varied forms of systematic injustice they endured.
“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream,” (Psalm 126:1). Would we think of Advent in a different way if we tried to imagine the promise and hope of Advent from the perspective of someone from a different socioeconomic, cultural, or racial background than our own? How might a congregation of migrant farm workers live and pray during the season of Advent? How might a group of Christian inmates at a federal prison pray during the season of Advent? How might the people who live in neighborhoods we try to avoid pray during the season of Advent? These are worthy considerations.
Many of us can relate to the strange phenomenon of how two siblings from the same family can be so drastically different from each another. But because we are family, we find ways to both embrace and celebrate our differences. Many of us were also raised understanding and believing that if a family member has a need, then we do what we can to be present out of love and familial responsibility. Few of us would ignore the plight of a brother or a sister.
In the family of God our responsibility to each other extends beyond race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and sexual orientation. When persons are in need, we all bear a familial responsibility to be present. It might take us some time to discern to whom and how God invites us to be present with our unique gifts and circumstances. Where there is economic poverty, we are called to recognize our siblings among the poor. Where there is social and political injustice, we are called to recognize our siblings among those who bear the brunt of injustice.
As God is often made manifest to us through the people we encounter, we need not be surprised if part of the invitation of waiting in Advent involves inquiring of God how we might be channels of love and even answers to the prayers of those who wait for restoration of body, mind, and spirit.
Lord, help us see your reflection in those whom we most readily assume are different from us. Help us learn to be part of the answers to one another’s prayers. Amen.