And so, how is your Advent going?
I know, not a typical question. Certainly not the norm for casual conversation at "Holiday" parties. And ferry conversations or email chats are not likely to revolve around your feelings of hope and expectation, or your struggle to find Light in a Dark season. Although I'm really grateful for the couple of Face Book friends I know who are regularly posting Advent reflections, I'm finding that these pre-Christmas days are just slipping by unnoticed and not "counting." At my house we were days late putting up the Advent calendar, and we have yet to unpack an ornament or string a light. Austin, our true Elf, quickly brought us up to date on the calendar, yet there is still this feeling that the days are simply passing. Work, school, work. The Advent season has always meant a great deal to me. Its themes of hope and expectation--hope held in spite of such obvious evidence otherwise--have often hit me at a pretty deep level. But this year the days simply seem to pass with little expectation of grace yet to come.
To add to that, one day this second week of Advent a strange package arrived at the Grace office. It was sent simply to "Grace Church" with a return address "North Pole." Of course such an arrival can arouse some interest and expectation--and it did. Inside--a book. No note. No inscription. Just an unwrapped book: "The God Delusion" by one of our current, "popular," post-modern atheists. "Wow, that's interesting," I thought. "Really interesting." At first I wondered what was up and who might have sent it. Does someone thing we at Grace are delusional? Or that I am? But then my wondering went deeper. Maybe the sender was trying to make a sharp point, and I was finally getting the point! "Is this all just some sort of delusion?" I found myself asking. I mean the whole "God" thing? And hoping, longing, looking for Light and Grace in a world where people sell each other every day for short-term power and votes? Isn't that hope just a bit naive? And take a good look at the World right now: wealth and abundance abound, but are hoarded and accumulated to maximize further profit, with little regard for consequence or the needs of so many. Yuck. But that's real life, right? And good folk grow weary while the cynical renew their strength. So faith is a delusion? Swallowed up in the Dark? Maybe.
Or maybe not. That, in fact, is the real and even wonderful struggle and question that every Advent should bring. And it turns out, that's the Advent I'm having. So I turn, as I often do, to that young woman who quietly clung to hope and light without any delusion. Consider this view of Mary's story here. Go ahead. Take a time out and just watch. Or maybe you need a real life Advent calendar to count and enliven these days. Try this one. And if clicking through to these links seems like a waste of time (it's not!), then just consider, again, how your Advent is going. In a remarkable poem ("Shapes") Ruth Stone writes that at every pause we take, each moment we allow ourselves to question and search for meaning, each moment of expectation, there is a
"compression of meaning
in an instant within the meaningless."
That is where God is found, during Advent. Anytime. A "compression of meaning" found in a world that runs from its own meaning.
Maybe Mary didn't know what her life was going to mean, but she believed it would mean something. So it did, and does. And ours with hers. No delusions there.