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As in many years past, I find myself in a state of longing this Advent—longing for the hope, peace, joy, and love of God’s kingdom come to us in utter vulnerability. I know that this kingdom is both already and not yet, and I know that Advent invites us into that tension. Yet some years more than others I taste the promises of God’s reign in the midst of the cacophony of the season. Some years I find a way to clear space in my frantic end-of-the-semester schedule to listen for the still voice of God. This year not so much.
I keep imagining that tomorrow or the next day I will actually take up one of the Advent activities meant to slow us down and usher us into a ritual through which we connect with the deeper meanings of this liturgical season. Lighting the Advent wreath weekly, opening an Advent calendar daily, attending Wednesday night Advent services, singing hymns and carols, reading a daily online Advent devotional, or pausing for five minutes throughout each day to practice the presence of God: these are but a few of the suggestions made by preachers and theologians to encourage us to enter into the expectant waiting of this season. I’ve made these same suggestions myself, but this year I find myself waiting for the waiting to begin.
Rather than preparing for the coming of the Lord, I’m preparing for a major move and job change. As I cross one item off the to-do list, I add two more. Just as an example, in the past two days, it took five phone calls, two emails, and an hour-long internet search to gather enough information (and the right information) to fill out forms to transfer health insurance from Minnesota to Michigan. All of that constituted only one item (not eight!) off the to-do list. (By the way, in my house, this is known as the double-edged sword of life in late modernity—a topic for another day.)
Then last night I read through this week’s lectionary text, Matthew 1:18-25, and the commentary provided by some of my colleagues on Workingpreacher.org. I was reminded that before that first Christmas, Joseph and Mary were entwined in a complicated familial mess. Chaos, grief, anger, misunderstanding, and loss must have filled their days as a distressed Joseph tried to figure out how to divorce a seemingly unfaithful Mary without risking her life. (Under the law, she could have been stoned to death.) There’s not a lot of peaceful waiting or joy to found in this text.
And therein lies our hope. God shows up unbidden. Into the chaos, God speaks. God arrives in the ordinary messiness of human life. God does so at God’s own initiative. God chooses to come to us in our daily lives, not the other way around.
Advent might seem as though it slipped away from me this year. I might not have practiced peaceful waiting. I suspect I am far from alone in this. Yet God’s coming isn’t dependent upon our waiting. It never was, and it never will be. Emmanuel, God with us, is reality. That’s the good news, the promise we can trust in the midst of busy, complicated, and distracting days.