In the order of how I most experience and filter it - life is: messy, confusing, and hopeful.
I love the Advent season because it is hope focused, whereas in my day to day dealings I tend to be confusion and mess focused.
The unknown meanings in every journey mostly make me want to punch things.
This past year seemed to serve up more than normal sized helpings of unknown meaning, disappointment, and sorrow. We watched with dismay as people did unjust and dishonest things in Haiti. We have a friend that lost her young husband. Our friends that have worked tirelessly for ethics, integrity, and justice in adoptions don't have their son(s) in their home(s) today. We have friends that have watched their parents begin to fail and pass away. In the last several weeks dearly loved couples, close friends, have quickly lost their very first pregnancies after more than a decade of infertility. Joy turned to devastation in the blink of an eye. These things weigh heavily on our hearts and minds.
It gets tough to continue to feel hopeful.Doesn't it?
If we could only understand the why and the timing of seemingly senseless things, wouldn't we be happier and more hopeful? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm not really sure. This Advent piece was lovely in that it acknowledged that the waiting thing is hard work. We're doing some heavy lifting, friends.
"Like Mary, we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, what God has already done. And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God's reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of God's kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world."
-This "note on Advent" from Common Prayer (p. 50)
Like you, I am waiting.
As we wait we also work, cry, pray, ache - and hope.
~ ~ ~
By Rick Porter (Uncle Rick)
Hear the Angels Sing
Perhaps it’s just the Ebenezer Scrooge in me, but I’m not much of a caroler. When pressed into participation I sing, but rarely with the gusto of those around me. And too often I sing in a rote way, not giving full attention to the words. There is however, one line of one verse of one carol that always captures my attention.
A story is told of a man seasonally employed to bring the presence of Santa to Christmas gatherings for businesses and schools. He was on his way to a gig, an office party, but had been asked to stop by the nursing home to make a quick visit to the residents. This was pro bono work, but if Santa won’t do it who will?
He quickly made his rounds with a “ho, ho, ho” to each room. Just before departing, he peeked into a darkened cubicle where an elderly man lay apparently asleep, curled on his bony side. Santa prepared to leave in a flash. But the man made a feeble beckoning gesture visible in the dim light of a tiny Christmas tree. The volunteer Santa approached. The man whispered something so faintly as to be inaudible. Santa moved his jolly old ear very close to the man’s dry mouth. “Forms are bending low,” the man said. Santa did not connect the phrase, assumed confusion, gave a patronizing pat, and hurried off to his paying job.
As he arrived at the office party, holiday music was filling the room. The words of an old carol floated from the ceiling speakers:
O ye beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow; Look now, for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing; Oh rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing.
The song was “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” written as a poem in 1849 and put to music 10 years later. The essence of the song is that angels did not just appear and sing at the birth of Christ. They show up and serenade regularly and often.
Just when we are so burdened as to not hear, at the most difficult of times, when life’s loads crush and our forms bend, they minister most. Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us,” attends us as His invisible person, the Holy Spirit, and He is attended by angels. The heart of God is to meet us at life’s darkest intersections with comfort, encouragement, a touch of heaven, and a breath of hope. The old man in the nursing home wasn’t just complaining to Santa about his lot in life. He was acknowledging that in Santa’s visit, no matter how hurried, there was an angelic grace.
Whether or not you sing the carols this year, be encouraged to live the carols. For you, this season may not be one of happiness, good memories, or togetherness. You may be grieving, regretful, or lonely. Life’s road seems crushing and your form is bending low. That does not disqualify you from the true Christmas message. While others scurry in apparent happiness, the invitation to the crushed and the bent still stands:
Oh rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing.