Surely this Advent of waiting and longing will be more poignant than any in recent memory. We wait and long for the coming of Christ again, a time when the world will be renewed and all will be right and just in our relationships. We will hear the stories of that promised second coming alongside John the Baptist’s call to prepare the way of the Lord. We will hear the response of Mary to Gabriel as the one who will bear Christ into the world.
The stories of the first coming of Christ and its preparation are retold every year as we wait for that second coming in the midst of current events. The year 2020 sees us longing with a particular urgency as COVID-19 continues to keep us isolated and separated from full celebrations with family and community; as stark injustices have been laid bare in these months of turmoil; and as the future remains shrouded in uncertainties. We are longing for the familiar even as we wonder what may be borne out this time.
One of the reasons Christmas delights our souls is that it is about the birth of a baby. Babies are a sign of new life, new possibilities, dreams and hopes for the future! Despite all the medical tools used to predict their coming, they usually arrive in their own time, surprising us. Their vulnerability and potential fill hearts with hope.
The coming of Christ surprised Mary and Joseph. Christ surprised Mary Magdalene and the disciples in the resurrection appearances. We are surprised in our lives day by day when we see the presence of Christ in our midst in unexpected ways and places. And we will be surprised when Christ comes again.
Recently the Strategic Planning Working Group was reminded of how the “new” arrives in our midst through the words of theologian Paul Tillich. He wrote: “That is the first thing we must say about the new: it appears when and where it chooses. We cannot force it, and we cannot calculate it. Readiness is the only condition for it; and readiness means that the former things have become old and that they are driving us into the destruction of our souls just when we are trying most to save what we think can be saved of the old. It is the same in our historical situation. The birth of the new is just as surprising in history. It may appear in some dark corner of our world. It may appear in a social group where it was least expected. It may appear in the pursuit of activities which seem utterly insignificant…. All we can do is to be ready for it.”
God did something “new” in the birth of Jesus, becoming fully human in our midst. The resurrection turned expectations upside down with the promise of new life even beyond death.
What do we need to do to be ready for the “new” God is revealing now? We have lamented what has been lost in recent months. We are being pruned to discover how God is revealed now. I know I am discovering and attending to the presence of God in small events and unexpected places—a moment of wonder in creation; the call of a friend or gift of food shared; the joy of giving to others—as I pay attention in the moment. Each gives me the hope needed for today to wait in readiness for all the “new” God is preparing to reveal and reminds me that it will be a surprise—arriving in the least expected places and people.
May this Advent be a time waiting in hope, delighting in the signs of God with us now and making ourselves ready to be surprised!