Friday, December 02, 2011

Advent: Remembering the Ways of God

"Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you, 
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
 who remember your ways." 
Isaiah 64:1, 4-5 
Reading for the first Sunday in Advent 

The prophet's cry echoes down through the centuries, 
right into the middle of my central California lifestyle.
Each and every Advent, sometimes multiple times during these four weeks, 
I find my spirit singing Isaiah's words of praise and longing. 
And I stretch my mind to do what he asks:
to remember the ways of God.

To remember that the ways of God are not our ways.
To remember that the ways of God are small and surprising
more often than large and predictable.
To remember that rending the heavens will be saved for another Advent, 
one for which we still wait.
So as Advent begins to unfurl each year, I remember.
I remember the ways of God.
The small and hidden,
quiet and secretive ways of our great God,
King of the Universe,
who entered the Virgin's womb
to become as one with us.

Out of the chaos, order.
Out of the darkness, light.
Out of death, life.
And then, in stunning reverse:
out of the glistening, glorious starry heights
into the dark and murky fluids,
the blood and the water,
the reliance upon another for nurture and nourishment,
the vulnerable, tender uncertainty of the human condition.

And I remember the ways we have seen the Baby in our midst,
in our vulnerable, tender and uncertain condition.
I remember the ways we have found the small,
the hidden,
the quiet;
the unnoticeable notices
of Emmanuel, God with us.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel..."

 I sing a verse of remembering for each of these
splendid small stories:

marrying my hero one week before Christmas 
and buying our very first tree for 50 cents on Christmas Eve, 
 a tiny thing, scrawny and misshapen 
 but so beautiful to us;

standing in the starlight on a moonless Advent night in Zambia one year later, marveling that our families were
celebrating the same Infant Savior 14,000 miles 
around the world from us; 

carrying our second baby, birthing her in December, wondering if Mary felt as overwhelmed with the wonder and beauty of it all;

being gripped with fear as our youngest entered the hospital in Advent, 
a tiny invasive bacteria literally eating his heel bone; 
then bringing him home on Christmas Eve, 
rejoicing in the goodness of God and the gift of antibiotics;

joyfully displaying an increasing supply of home-grown Advent art as our family grew up; gently saying 'thank-you' for each of our children as the paper became more and more tattered over the years;

learning about Lucia at our Swedish church, each of our daughters taking her turn to wear the crown of candles, ushering in the Light of the World 
on the shortest, darkest day of the year;

absorbing the wonders of the liturgical year at mid-life,
forming a home-grown wreath 
and lighting the candles each week;

creating Advent worship experiences with a team of talented musicians/dramatists/graphic artists, each one offering their gifts in thanksgiving and praise;

preaching my very first sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Advent in 1990, and just before I began, being gently told that the husband of a dear friend had died the night before, underscoring for me the smallness of all human endeavor in the face of eternity - a great place for a preacher to be;

offering the body and the blood to the community of faith every Advent for 17 years, each time amazed and overwhelmed at the power of such simple things: 
bread and wine - 
the whole world contained in ordinary fruits of the soil:
dusty gifts for dusty people. 

"O come, O come, Emmanuel..." 

Life is filled with such splendid, small stories.
And every year, I ask for eyes to see,
for a voice to tell,
and a heart to remember
the ways of God at work in the world,
at work in my everyday,
oh-so-messy yet glorious world.
"May Jesus Christ be praised."

Responding to Charity Singleton's kind invitation to join The High Calling Community in sharing Advent reflections. ( This one is more general in scope than might have been asked for, but this is where I am in life - looking backward a lot, with deep thanksgiving for growth along the way. Tiny shoots of hope and life here and there, reminding me of God's faithfulness in the everyday.