Most of my life with Christ has been like drinking from the fire hose. When I look back and study all of life’s twists and turns I am amazed at God’s provision, at his utmost care for me, especially in contrast to my rebellion and unfaithfulness. Sometimes the grace and love of Jesus are just too much for my small heart and brain. I am deeply aware that I will never love another thing on this earth the way the God of the universe loves me. It hurts sometimes to accept the gifts and provisions of God because they are overwhelming and uncontrollable. The overwhelming weight of the presence of God is enough to incapacitate us, to pin us down, thrash us around and make us lose all sense of direction. It’s like showering with a pressure washer. Which is why we (myself included) can spend so much time trying to avoid it. It’s why we’re prone to postures of poverty and smallness. Sometimes the generosity of God is just too much to handle.
Advent is the beginning of the liturgical calendar; it is the Christian New Year. It begins in darkness and slowly moves us toward the light. This is why I love Advent; it is a slow and steady walk into the fire hose of God’s goodness and graciousness. Life gets busy in December; we get focused on parties, gifts, the end of the semester, and wrapping up the year well. The noise level grows louder and louder and by the time we reach December 25th, we are exhausted, overstimulated and numb to the miracle that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” If we do not do Advent well, by embracing this slowness and steadiness, I fear we will not do Christmas well either.
Hope is the never giving up, never running out, never-ending love of God that finds us in this season, more than 2000 years after the birth of Jesus. It is the long stretch of God’s hand throughout time bringing us back to Him.
Christmas is the appearing of Hope. The hope of love, of grace and of reconciliation. Hope appears when God reveals his steadfast love. This is what he did, in the vulnerability of a child in a manger, and if we are not ready we will miss it. Hope is the never giving up, never running out, never-ending love of God that finds us in this season, more than 2000 years after the birth of Jesus. It is the long stretch of God’s hand throughout time bringing us back to Him.
The hope of Christians is a slow-burning kind of hope, one that takes its time in rooting, growing and bursting forth. It requires patience and attention. It is the hope Naomi and Ruth would have found on the road back to Bethlehem. Though both were childless, both were without riches or husbands, and though both of their lives were saturated in grief, hope would have met them with every step, though perhaps they didn’t see it for what it was.
I wish I could have walked with these women, I wish I could have held their conversations as they returned to Naomi’s homeland. So much of life is a mingling of grief and hope and I wonder if this mingling became more and more apparent as their destination became closer and closer. This is what Advent does. As we approach Christmas, this incalculable joy of Emmanuel, God with us, mixes with our grief, with our frustrations and misunderstandings.
God’s love, His gift of salvation, His hope mixes with our humanity, but does so gently, carefully so that it doesn’t overwhelm us. There is room for all of life’s experiences at the manger-side, but there is also hope. Advent is that slow road back to Bethlehem for Naomi and Ruth, that journey that allowed Naomi to look ahead to her homeland, but not forget what she had lost in the land where she had lived. The appearance of hope manifested in the comfort of returning home despite the lines on Naomi’s face and the grief in her bones.
I need Advent’s slowness. Its gradual accumulation of light. I need it so that I don’t miss the miracle and gift of a baby in a manger. I need it so that I can order my heart; so that I can lean into the joy and pain of being loved so much a sacrifice was made. So that my grief, my frustrations, my fears and dreams don’t blur the miracle of Christ among us. I need to press into the silence to allow the small whisper of the coming Christ to be heard in the depths of my body and mind. I need its slow road into the new year, so that the shining brightness of the coming Christ doesn’t overwhelm me.
For Advent, St. Peter’s Fireside will be tracing the theme of Hope throughout the Book of Ruth through our sermons, poetic reflections and these blog posts. You can listen to the second sermon, Darkened Hope, here and read the second poetic reflection here.