In some ways, it is a mystery that I am so drawn to Advent, given who I am and how I do life. Although I often pretend to be a patient man, in my heart I know better. I do not like waiting. I don’t suppose anyone particularly does. But some seem to be better than I am at waiting for the fullness of time, waiting with the beatific gaze of a truly spiritually patient person. I admire such people except when I want to smack them. It just doesn’t come naturally for me; but deep in my soul, I do know, as you do, that Advent is about something truly important. Even in a clamorous season, Advent’s quiet is rich and deep; and it signals the telling again of a story we have heard as many years as we’ve been alive, a story which stirs us no matter how desperately the culture attempts to trivialize it.
The miracle is that each hearing of the story, no matter how dispassionately we can recount the details, has all the potential of hearing it as though for the first time. Walter Brueggeman says that Advent is an “abrupt disruption of our ordinary time.” And it is. It arrives with the abrupt reminder that God is still in the process of giving, the process of giving God’s self, coming among us and in us yet one more time with all the promise of the first.
Yesterday, the sermon I heard poignantly differentiated between death and not living. The first is literal and something about which we have generally minimal choice; the second is metaphorical and almost always surrounded by numerous choices. The priest’s point was that death is not something to be feared for it exists squarely in the realm of God. Not living, on the other hand, is the choice we so often make by attempting to regard the temporal as the eternal, by substituting baubles for what truly matters. Advent uses the language of the unexpected coming of the Son of Man as a metaphor for this choice. Jesus’ plea to us is that we live each moment fully and with awareness, conscious of God’s presence in and around every moment we live. Though the admonition to live in the moment has become trivialized by Hallmark and Blue Mountain cards, it happens to be the truth. If we don’t live this moment, we don’t truly live. The past either fills us with nostalgia about an era that wasn’t as good as we remember or overwhelms us with all sorts of regrets about things that may not have been as bad as we remember and even if they were, can’t be changed. The future scares us to death because we have lived long enough to know that there is absolutely no telling what could happen and that good and bad fall on us all. Only the present is a moment truly within our grasp. Jesus said, “Wake up and don’t miss this moment – for God shows up in the present!”
Something deeply sad happened in my life last week that oddly brought home how important the message of Advent is. On Thanksgiving Eve, my funky little dog, Gretchen, died in my arms. She was attended by the kindest, most Christ-like veterinarian in the world, who injected her with a lethal dose of medicine to end her pain that couldn’t be controlled any other way. Though the moment felt much more like Good Friday than the start of Advent, over these few days I have been able to see how many times Gretchen invited me to live in the present moment, which seemed to be the only world in which she lived. If I left for twenty minutes, my return was greeted with full-long-body wiggling as though I’d been gone for weeks and would never leave again. The instances I allowed myself the time and presence to embrace all that enthusiastic loving were eternal moments, the absence of which now makes me terribly sad even as the memory of them invites and will invite me again and again to grab the moment for it so often is the occasion of God and love.