In this season of harsh December lights, and darker darks, we cautiously enter the Advent Stage. To some, Advent may seem a silly exercise. Why do we want to enter into this dark, lightless time, year after year, and pretend we are waiting for a Messiah? We already know the end of the story. Besides, we may sometimes wonder, nothing really ever changes.
I'm considering perhaps this year we might enter more deeply into the spirit, or anamnesis of the season. Anamnesis specifically means 'remembering.' Yet, it is not just a remembering, as in in 'oh, yes I remember how it was...I was there", but more an actual re-entering a time past, to re-experience the joy or sorrow of that time or moment. To feel once again what the experience is. Anamnesis is the word we use when we break bread together. We are not just remembering Jesus, we are experiencing Jesus once more in the breaking and taking of the bread. In this anamnesis, he is in us one more day...the bread becomes bone of our bone, the wine strengthens our bodies and we are made whole once again. This is a real thing for us, and I'm wondering if Advent can be this kind of re-remembering for us, a kind of real deal where we become intentional about our wakefulness, our changing, and our growing.
The gospel of Luke tells us John the Baptist came charging out of the desert, looking wild-eyed and scary, proclaiming,"The Lord is coming, the Lord is coming." There is an intensity in his presence and his words. He didn't know the message would change and alter his life. Yet he could not not proclaim this great and terrible something that was coming. He was compelled from birth to proclaim it.
Our family has a Luke as well. A two and a half year old one. He also was proclaiming a birth. The birth of his brother he had nick-named 'Peanut'. When our daughter Anna called to say she was ready to deliver Peanut, Rich and I were greeted at the top of the hospital stairs by Lucas running the length of the hallway yelling at the top of his voice,"Peanut is coming, Peanut is coming, come quick, Mama's having Peanut." Two Luke's proclaiming something life changing and profound. As John preached, he did not know what the future had in store for him. Our Lukie knew not how intimately and profoundly changed his world would be. Yet they both knew they could do nothing but eagerly await and proclaim the coming of another.
These mornings as I run the valley floor, I notice the recent rainfall has left the trees bare. The trees are often silhouetted against the fog, as our lives are in ba-relief against the background of Advent. Like the earth, we have entered a time of Winter spirituality. Winter, like the wilderness, reveals the structures of essential habitations and readies itself for the dressing of new life. Winter is the quiet, fallow time when the earth prepares for rebirth, when our souls may be restored. I sometimes imagine yellow 'under restoration' tape around my soul during Advent season. This is a time when we can discern the bare structure of our living. All of nature seems to have gone into a gestation period. A time of 'womb-work'. What would it be like for you to enter into the womb of God. This is a stretch, I know, but could we entertain the thought of God carrying you during this time? Think of resting against the heart-beat of God. You wouldn't be doing the work, nor would you be doing anything to make yourself better, you'd just be there. God growing you. Like Jesus, growing in God. Advent is a time where we too are invited to grow in God like Jesus is growing in his mother's womb.
This is a huge concept, isn't it, the idea of God growing us. To embrace such a concept we'll need to change our minds about our spiritual work. Often we think that our work is to think real hard, have good intentions, make a list of things we'd like to change, say some prayers, and just 'do' it. However, the gospels tell us something a little different John came out of the wilderness proclaiming a baptism for the repentance of sins. "Don't just be baptized, but repent from your sin as well," he says. In the Greek, the word 'repent' is 'metanoia', literally change your mind, turn around. Might we change our minds this season? Might we change our minds about what it means to be in God, with God's very self doing and guiding our spiritual work?
You may wonder what 'changing' our minds has to do with the realization that God does the work. Well, the work of God is the refining fire of God's love in us. The prophets' words to us are that God will purify. This Lord that is coming will purify with a refining fire of love. And God growing us is the outpouring of that refining fire. It is not our work. There is nothing we can do to inhibit this growing of love in us. John calls us to prepare the way for God to take the chaos of our lives, to loosen old leaves and dead wood in order to recreate anew. It is God who makes the straight path through the desert of our souls, and we begin this season by entering into an intimate pregnant time with God where we change our minds and agree with the love of God toward and in us.
Remember these are graces we ask God for because sin and brokenness is a mystery, and it takes more than what we are to see it. We need God's gift of ourselves to see. And when we experience regret and remorse, we thank God for the gift to face and feel the cold winds of a discordant life, and invite God to come into the brittle bareness of our days. In this womb, we realize our prison of hope and grace as we are nurtured and carried as God's beloved child.
John the Baptist reminds us that God relates to us as beloved children through our baptism. Even as we are washed we are sealed as one of God's own forever. Remember those words? We are sealed as Christ's own forever. Forever, we grow more and more intimate with God. And as each Advent comes around we reenter that strange quiet womb-like place where we wait with God as God grows us. As God's own body GROWS us.
So, how might God's body grow us. We participate in each season's Taize, in our worship we pray the universal lectionary while we participate with others around the world we grow into the body of God alongside others praying the same scriptures. We gather around the light of community, we intentionally walk our lives, and wait.
God is the one who births us, not we ourselves.
Now I knew I was in for a night of it, supporting the birth of our Peanut. However within an hour Anna's body began convulsing and as I watched and tried to make her comfortable, the birth-work was being done through no conscious work of her own. Within an hour of my arrival, Peanut Ryan Thomas Tucker was born. There was no work we could do to facilitate his birthing in an orderly fashion. Peanut literally burst out into this world. This Advent time is a season of waiting until God births us.
This Advent, like beloved children we come, and enter though the convenential relationship of our baptism into an intimate relationship with God. We are God's, and God is ours.
So we give thanks, as the wilderness winds blow our souls clean and we experience the great mystery of the gift of seeing ourselves, and understanding the depth of God's deep care for us. We come, we're open, we give thanks, and we wait. Sound pretty simple, huh, yet not simplistic. Waiting is some of the deeper work we'll do. The word of God comes in the wilderness and says, come, be in me. Prepare your hearts, prepare your lives, prepare the way for your Birth, God is coming.