Saturday, November 30, 2013

Vigil of 1 Advent: God's patience and God's impatience


Do you have an Advent wreath? Do you light Advent candles? Did you light the first candle tonight? Will you wait for tomorrow?

This is your virtual lighting of the first candle. Take a moment (or two) to gaze at the flame here, the wooden match lighting the purple candle. Simply gaze. There is no need for words. Some may come to you later. Or not.

Advent and Christmas are in some ways the ultimate celebration of space, the celebration of God entering human space in the most intimate way possible: by becoming human. The celebration of word become flesh, the discovery that God-the-other is also God-with-us (Emmanuel in Hebrew) -- that is the good news of Advent.

We celebrate in
Advent God's invitation for us to view our space --our society, our environment, our neighbor, our own flesh-- as sacred, pregnant with justice and hope, filled with hidden treasure.

Advent is also a celebration of time and a celebration in time.

The way in which we live time in
Advent is profoundly counter-cultural. At a time when many of us are caught in the frenzy of work and in dashing about to buy presents, we Christians are invited to step into a season of muted colors, whose mood is slow, gentle, and deep --though also, as we will see in some of the season's biblical readings, disturbing at times. In Advent, light increases gradually, week by week, instead of appearing in one great post-Thanksgiving burst of electricity. (For those of you not in the U.S., there is no Thanksgiving holiday in late November, but the great burst of electricity is there.)

There is a reason for this slowing down. If we are to hear the good news that our space and God's space have become one, we have to slow down enough to hear. Sometimes this good news is spoken to us by God very softly, in ordinary ways and places, in the daily events of our lives. Sometimes this good news is simply that there is immense treasure already present in our lives and hearts: all that we need to claim the treasure is to slow down, stop, and notice it. 

If the good news is going to take root in us --once we have begun to listen or to notice-- we need to enter God's time, God's timetable. Advent is not a flashy season. It takes time for good news to sink in, for love to grow, for wisdom to ripen, for lives to be transformed, for truth to dawn in us -- much more time than our frenzy will often allow.

So in
Advent, season of waiting for Christ, we take in the good news slowly, steadily, lighting candles one at at time, adding a new insight, a layer of understanding, a little layer of light every week, as around us in the Northern Hemisphere* the days grow darker.  (*If people from the Southern Hemisphere read this post, it will be interesting to hear about Advent and Advent lights from people for whom it is the middle of summer right now.)

Advent challenges our impatience and invites us to enter God's patience.

Advent is also a time to enter God's impatience, a time when prophets (more on them in the coming weeks) challenge our apathy and paralysis and urge us forward, a time in which the stories and songs in the scriptures speak of a God who longs to transform our hearts, our society, and creation itself -- soon, now, urgently.

One of the challenges of this season is to figure out the connections between our time and God's time, to readjust and balance our sense of time, to discover  or rediscover --to discern-- when it is appropriate to enter into God's patience and when it is time to enter into God's impatience.

In this first night, before anything else, take time. Rest in the patience of God. All else will unfold, in God's time.


This is the first post of a retreat I led last year during Advent. It appeared on the retreat's closed  blog
(i.e. a blog accessible only to retreatants, not a public blog like this one) at the beginning of the retreat. I will be offering the retreat again this year, with a few changes. Information will be available here by the end of the day tomorrow, December 1.