Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bearing Emmanuel

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
                                                                                                Matthew 1:23

Bear—It is a word rich with meaning. The dictionary gives these definitions for bear:
o   carry
o   support
o   endure
o   give birth to
o   turn and proceed in a specified direction

Mary carries Jesus, the Son of God, the Divine Godself, in her womb. The Light of the world was in her. Mary, by giving birth to Jesus, bears him throughout her life. Parents know that their lives are always bound up in the lives of their children for as long as both parent and child live. One never outgrows the connection with the other. Mary bears both Jesus’ rejection and his acceptance, his miracles and his crucifixion, and his resurrection. Mary bears it all, enduring the achingly agonizing death of her son, the one whose conception was announced by the angel.  She remains by the cross, supporting her son with her presence, and in the Pietàwe see Mary supporting her dead son’s body.

We too are called to bear Christ, to carry Christ within us, to let Christ be born in us and in the world by the way we let the Light shine in us. Each one of us is called to bear Christ and as we do so Emmanuel happens now—God is with us.

We are the reason Christ comes. It is only as we bear Christ that Christ lives in the world among us. Advent is not only a time of waiting and watching for the Messiah to come. It is a time for us to prepare our wombs, our hearts, to bear Christ and bring forth Christ into the world. It is how Christ comes each Christmas, through the faithful preparation of our hearts to receive him but not for ourselves alone. We give birth to Christ as we are part of his work in the world.

I pray that we all, male and female alike, have wombs prepared for the coming of Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Active Waiting

The waiting is the hardest part. – Tom Petty

We are not a culture that embraces waiting. Five-minute oatmeal is not fast enough for us. Most of us would rather do something than to be still, even as we complain of having too much to do! And if we are still, it is often to watch someone else do something by watching sports or other entertainment.

Tom Petty is right – the waiting is the hardest part. But in this season of Advent, we are called to wait, and wait, and wait some more. Most of us ignore this call, choosing instead to rush from store to store and event to event. We eat too much, shop too much and spend too much money. We reject the message of Advent to wait and watch.

In the Common English Bible, Psalm 37:3 says: Trust in the Lord and do good; live in the land, and farm faithfulness. Farm faithfulness – it’s an interesting choice of words, one that offers a good example of how to actively wait.

There is waiting inherent in farming but it is not a complacent waiting. The farmer plants seeds and then waits for them to grow, but soil must be cultivated, plants must be thinned, and the growing plants must be cared for if they are to bear fruit. Our spiritual lives benefit from this sort of active waiting.

Fruitful active waiting can only happen by our attention and intention. We have to push back the temptation of our culture, especially in this season, to only be consumers – of products, food and activity. If we are to farm faithfulness, we will have to wait. But we are given a great gift if we will choose to wait. Our active, faithful waiting produces in us the fruit of patience. This superfruit combats anxiety and overconsumption and promotes trust and peace.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cold Turkey

The holidays are here. Beginning with Thanksgiving, the season of setting the bar too high is upon us. What should be a time of joy and wonder often dissolves into frustration and unmet expectations. The season can be a time of peace and anticipation if we choose to approach it with a sense of expectancy rather than expectation. While these two words sound similar, they could not be more different.

Expectancy implies unknowing. We wait with a certain amount of breathless anticipation and wonder for what might happen. Expectation, on the other hand, is a preconceived notion of what will happen. Expectancy lives in mystery. Expectation lives in concreteness. Expectancy welcomes surprise. Expectation hates surprise.

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving. I had purchased the turkey and was planning a meal that could be easily prepared in an unfamiliar kitchen. We were traveling to my parents’ house in Tennessee, which we have been cleaning up since my dad, who was my last surviving parent, died last year. While I wasn’t looking forward to the work we would be doing, I was glad to have the opportunity to spend time with one of our sons. But because I’ve been facilitating an Advent study, where the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving we had talked about approaching the season with a sense of expectancy rather than expectation, I sought to practice expectancy toward Thanksgiving.

So when I discovered that my son’s plans had changed, I was not disappointed. My husband suggested we do turkey sandwiches, so we could focus our energy on our cleaning project, which was the reason for our trip to Tennessee. On our way to my parents’ house, we stopped at a favorite store in Chattanooga and bought some good bakery bread, deli turkey and a delicious pumpkin pie. Purchasing our dinner was great fun, because the store was offering samples of different pies and we tried all the different ones before deciding which one to buy.

Because we approached the holiday with a sense of expectancy, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed being with each other, and we made a good memory in the midst of a different way of celebrating Thanksgiving. Had we had a certain expectation for the celebration, we would surely have been disappointed. Expectancy allowed us to be fully present in the moment, and to savor it with joy!

I invite you to approach the season, and frankly, all of life, with a sense of expectancy, not expectation. Let expectancy become a spiritual practice and allow yourself to encounter God and others with freshness and wonder.