Advent is a time of slowing down, refocusing, and waiting. You can go ahead and laugh, since most of you know that none of those are strengths of mine. That’s precisely why I enjoy this time of year; it gives me a chance to stretch myself spiritually in a way that I haven’t been during the fall. Fall-time is always too busy for me.
It struck me earlier last week that I had missed the first Sunday of Advent. As much as I tried to catch up, I wasn’t able (okay, didn’t buckle down) to set a time aside just for thinking on it until Monday. I debated on what books would be most meaningful to accompany my chronological Bible, so I settled on an Advent favorite, The Meaning is in the Waiting by Paula Gooder, and Glimpses of Grace, which is a collection of Madeleine L’Engle’s more spiritual writings. Surprisingly, the two complemented each other beautifully, and they all touched on Romans. In the first reading, I read this in Romans 4:18-21 (some parts skipped for brevity):
Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him…Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.
I bring up Abraham’s faith, because it is the faith of one who waited. Just as he waited expectantly for God to fulfill His promise, so too the Advent season focuses on waiting and anticipating Christmas day. We focus on the redemption that came from Jesus’ birth and the events that preceded it.
The Advent season overwhelms us with expectations, but I think we can purpose to let ourselves be grown and stretched spiritually. It makes me wonder if there are parallels between the story then and our story now. Jesus was born during the tax season, and Advent is the busiest time of year. I think so often we reflect the Innkeepers who turned him away, rather than the shepherds who fell to their feet and worshiped.
Paula Gooder wrote about Abraham’s call as it relates to Advent.
God’s initial call, then, wasn’t just to a single act of traveling with an early, fixed end point but to a frame of mind, one that is prepared to ‘leave behind’ and to accompany. Abraham’s call is really a call to waiting.
The voice that speaks to [Abraham] still speaks to us: ‘Go from the things that bind you, from the sense of your own identity, from your day-to-day way of being to something I will show you.’
Ultimately, that’s why Christians celebrate Christmas. We celebrate it to reflect on a Divine work on a difficult night, one where Joseph and Mary had honored the Lord and followed His call. They searched for a place to rest and were given a less-than-desirable place to stay, and Mary’s birthing gave hope to the world. The testimony of two people who chose to follow God in difficult circumstances, just as their ancestor Abraham did, with no immediate, apparent redemption, still shines today on Christmas.
I think what’s most inspirational is the fact that Joseph, Mary, and Abraham all chose a difficult path, and they could have stayed comfortably in their own homes. They could have justified not listening to God’s call and rationalized their way out of it. I suppose they could have even found a righteous way out of following, as a way to defend their own choices. In Glimpses of Grace, this quote struck me, because I think all Christians are guilty of using the Bible to justify their own ideas and opinions. That can quickly lead to disaster.
It is terrifying to realize that we can prove almost anything we want to prove if we take fragments of the Bible out of context. Those who believe in the righteousness of apartheid believe that it is scriptural.
I turn to the Bible in fear and trembling, trying to see it whole, not using it for my own purposes, but letting its ongoing message of love direct me. I turn to the Bible in fear and trembling, trying to see it as whole, not using it for my own purposes, but letting its ongoing message of love direct me.