Scripture reading for today:
The first theologian who introduced me to the concept of Advent being something other than an effervescent, sparkling, anticipation-filled countdown to Christmas, was the Rev. Fleming Rutledge. As I watched a recording of her declaring ”The significance of the birth of Jesus Christ will forever elude us if we are unable to take an inventory of the gravity of the human condition”, something in me said a quiet yes. She continued, “Advent is designed to help us acknowledge the pervasive presence of the power of sin and death.”
I spent the first part of my life swimming in expressions of the Christian faith that ranged from the somewhat to the very charismatic. We would sing loudly and long, our worship services often filled with the backdrop of people murmuring to God in tongues and punctuated with the regular interjection of prophetic proclamations. We declared the favour of God to those who believed and spoke about the availability of healing to all who asked. And I’m grateful. Yes, I continue to unlearn and relearn things as I grow (I prefer to use these terms rather than the ubiquitous “deconstruction”), but I’m still grateful for the sense that I have, deep in my bones, that our God is a present, active God, bent towards the good of us, His children.
However, I didn’t have much of a sense of the Advent season beyond including some carols during the services and hearing sermons pumping us up about the reality of what happened at Christmas, which is our reality now, because we’re forever living in the aftermath of that day 2000 years ago! Jesus came, we’re all ok! Jesus came, everything is now as it should be! Jesus came, so every day is Christmas!
It took me a while to acknowledge that I had an underlying current of unease with this (perhaps because I identify with many traits of an Enneagram 9 – sometimes known as the Peacemaker – it took me longer than others, but there you go). That unease didn’t come to a head until more recently when, seemingly out of the blue, I experienced the sudden onset of a season of severe anxiety. I now like to think that that was my body’s way of trying to force my Enneagram 9-shaped brain to actually wake up to something, and I’m starting to be grateful for the experience. However, in that season? When I was constantly on the verge of a debilitating panic attack and eventually lost the ability to sleep altogether? When I walked around with a perpetual sense of impending doom? In that season I was not grateful. I was scared. In that season I knew that everything was not as it should be. But I had internalized this message that as a believer in Jesus, I should be able to pray a prayer full of faith and the anxiety would have to go. And so I prayed. I would sit in the middle of the night singing songs over myself about peace, and fighting my battles, and being an overcomer. I declared that all is as it should be and commanded my body to line up.
As I sat with my counsellor, working out what was going on, I talked about the shame I felt. That I couldn’t just pray this anxiety away. And in those conversations I realized something – I was holding on to the belief that I had a responsibility to perform wholeness on behalf of Jesus. Buried deep inside was this idea that I should be a walking billboard for the good life. A sparkling, effervescent billboard that convinces people to buy what Jesus is selling. But what my heart really wanted was to acknowledge that everything was not as it should be. And so my counsellor simply said, let’s do that. And so I practiced sitting, letting things be not as they should be. A wave of untethered dread would come, and I’d say hello, I see you trying to get my attention. I see you. And I practiced letting go of the idea that I had to perform wholeness on behalf of Jesus. Instead, I asked Him to sit with me in my sad anxiousness. I asked Him to show up for me how my heart actually needed him, in the space where things were not as they should be. And in that space – He came. I had the distinct sense of His arms coming around me not to fix, or heal, or empower, or strengthen, but to comfort me. And something inside me began to shift.
“Comfort, comfort my people….”
Advent reminds us that we are living in the now, and not yet.
And yet there is a strange alchemy that happens when we take our acknowledgement that all is not right and simply introduce it to the One who has come and is coming again. In that liminal space, we are comforted, and the glory of Jesus is revealed; he is the good shepherd, he gathers us in his arms and he carries us close to his heart. This is the beginning of our wholeness, and the spark of good news to all humanity.
(icon image: Latimore, Kelly. Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57121 [retrieved December 6, 2019]. Original source: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/contact/)
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