Revolutionary Love

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Rev. Anna Woofenden
The Garden Church
December 4, 2016
Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10
11:1 & Matthew 3:1-12

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First Coming
He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came 
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
Madeleine L’Engle

(Christ) did not wait till the world was ready,
till (people) and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.

We come together today, here on this Sunday of Advent, this time of waiting, this time of preparation. We have lit the Advent Candle of Love and perhaps we feel like that’s exactly what we need, what we are longing for. For something beyond whatever the chaos we may feel in our own lives, in the world around us.

We reach for and long for that Love we talk about that overcomes fear, that Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. Maybe we long for what we might hope Advent can be, a peaceful time set apart, some twinkling candles, and re-lived childhood memories.

And then we get this passage. “Repent!” “Prepare the way!” “Make paths straight!”

We can read this and superimpose our own ideas of God and the Light and our own criteria for what it takes for it to come. “Prepare the way!” That must mean I need to have my house clean, all the gifts bought and wrapped, my finances in order, my inner-life in pristine condition. Probably in order for God to show up, I need to pray for long periods of time, every day, not make any questionable moral decisions, and never question or doubt. Probably if we were really doing good Advent preparation, we need to have everything in order, and have it all figured out—right?!

But no, this is not the Advent we find in the gospel, this is not the Advent we need today. The Advent we find comes into the middle of dark and messy, into a world that was engulfed in fear and chaos. Emmanuel, “God with us,” entered into a time in history when things where dark and grim, where fear and uncertainty ran rampant, and when people were crying out for another way.

John comes in from the wilderness and calls for repentance, calls to prepare a way for the Lord. This may seem counter to what we picture the preparation for Christ ought to be, but maybe John might be answering the question of “what are you waiting for?” more than he is trying to scare people into submission like a loud street preacher. At the very least, I think he’s showing us where our values are, and what it is that we actually need.

As my friend Alex pointed out, John shows up in the aftermath of Jesus’ birth, and the aftermath of Herod’s slaughter of hundreds of children. He shows up to people who are hurting and grieving that the empire had just murdered their babies. He shows up in the midst of the shrieking of Rachel and all the mothers whose children were taken from them.

But he also shows up right after the hope of the whole world has just been born. He shows up when God came into our world. And he comes out of the wilderness to talk about that hope. John came to proclaim a hope to people who were oppressed, proclaiming the kingdom of God over the kingdom of the empire. Offering the possibility that there is something more than capitalism, and that security in physical things won’t save us.

And Emanuel, God with us, comes to us in the middle of all the uncertainty and through Christ’s very presence—vulnerable in infant flesh—and opens up another way. With God with us, lions and sheep will lie down together. With God with us, and we’ll be able to sit across from that relative at the Christmas dinner table and find humanity beyond our differences. With God with us we will find that actually the kingdom of God—the love, the hope—is bigger and stronger and more pervasive and more immediately present than any of the chaos and fear. In fact, it is right here, God with us. Love with us.
God comes in the middle of dark and messy.

Jesus took bread and broke it, and the crumbs cascaded to the floor.

God comes in and amongst the mundane, the normal, the sacred.

God doesn’t wait until things are all cleaned up to come in. She doesn’t wait until we have everything in our lives perfectly in order to bring us some burst of joy, a flash of Light. No, God’s love and presence does not require an absence of the messy, it requires an openness to noticing and embracing the Love and Light. Prepare the way, repent, open up, clear out, turn, embrace the love.

My love, David, and I got engaged this past week, and we are so joyfully happy. This is something we have both been waiting for and praying for many many years—to find that partner to walk through life with. We had three days after our engagement in a total love bubble. I didn’t read the news, I didn’t worry about the church bank account, I didn’t look at the to-do lists. I only read the congratulatory comments on our announcement post on Facebook, and ignored all the political posts,

I even told people that we weren’t going to start trying to decide the wedding date until Monday because that scheduling felt stressful, and I wanted to bask in that deep and pure place of love and celebration.

On Monday, we began to re-enter the regular world life, and work, and the full email boxes, and work needs, and trying to find a wedding date that worked for everyone, and looking at the news again and wondering at the darkness and chaos and hate, and on top of it all, sneezing and coughing from a cold.

And I felt the love bubble beginning to fade. It was so tempting to just slide all the way away from it and to go the lowest common denominator of stress and worry and fear. I could feel myself succumbing to the chaos and the darkness…

But then, that idea of revolutionary gratitude caught up with me from a few weeks ago and the phrase “revolutionary love” crossed my path and a new image was offered me. I don’t need to “come down” from my love bubble high, and wallow in the chaos and fear. I need to hold strong to that incredible love, because that is the stuff of life. I need to expand that love bubble out and over the pain and the lists and the questions and fear.

Because love, in all its forms, is the thing that heals, and transforms, and comforts, and propels us forward. It was love that John was preparing the way for; it’s love that came into the world, Emmanuel, God with us. It’s love that we each need to claim and live and be in and with, here today.

Love is actually our greatest protest against empire and chaos and fear. And sometimes our work is to focus in on the simple things. The day-to-day acts of love that we keep showing up to. My friend Sara is planting bulbs. Our dear friend and new mom Tania is posting baby pictures. I’m determined not to lose the joy of the engagement glow. These are not things separate from the world, we’re not living apart and oblivious to the world around us, no—we’re defiantly claiming the power of love, here with us.

Jesus came into a dark world. And he came in innocence. Simply. As a baby. Revolutionary love is in the simple things, the innocence, and the vulnerable. Revolutionary love keeps its eyes open, to those who are vulnerable. Love stands together. Revolutionary love stands with the water protectors at Standing Rock. Revolutionary love gently cares for a partner as they support an aging parent. Revolutionary love goes across the street and checks on a neighbor. Revolutionary love shows up. And digs in. And embraces the love.

My friend and colleague Diana Butler Bass shared this story on Facebook on Friday, and I asked her if I could share it with you to close this message today.

She writes:
“I’m in a hotel this morning in Florida where some sort of conservative conference is being held. At breakfast, four older white men were at the table next to me. One was a media activist-pundit (who I think I recognized). They were talking VERY loudly, bragging about how they have “total power,” and how they are going to destroy everything President Obama did, how easy it is to manipulate people to get them to vote for them, and how they planned on taking over every single county government in the state of Florida.

There was a young African-American woman waiting on them. She did her job with thoroughness and kindness. As I watched, they spoke of disgusting racist things in front of her—and seemed to think she was invisible. And the more they bellowed their retrograde views, her body actually recoiled as she tried to serve them.

I was VERY angry. VERY ANGRY.

When she came over to my table, I told her that those guys might be white and I might be white but I thought they were assholes and that I wasn’t on board with their plan, how sorry I am about what happened. I told her that I wanted to go over to their table and slap them upside the head. She laughed.

She said, “You know, one day all this hate will finally die out. It doesn’t bring life. It cannot survive the long term.” I said, “I kind of hoped it might die before I do.” She said, “Well, that’s probably a bit too soon! But I have hope. Hate has no life of its own. Another generation or two. It will die.”

And she went on, “And meanwhile, we work for our communities. We love our families, care for our neighbors, celebrate life. And them?” She gazed over to the table with a mixture of resignation and pain. “They are the last of a dying world.”

As she spoke to me, her back straightened, her eyes glowed, passion filled her voice. And finally she said, “It is really nice, however, that a white lady like you noticed how awful they are. Thank you. We all need to pay attention and do our part.”

Dear ones, we all need to pay attention and do our part. Advent is a time of preparation, and waiting yes, and it’s a time of paying attention. It’s a time of being vulnerable and then standing up to do our part. Care for each other. Love our loved ones. Stand with the vulnerable. Celebrate life. Love with revolutionary love.

(Christ) came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Peace in the Chaos

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12.20.15
The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Readings: Luke 1:26-55

Link to Audio

Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Peace. Advent this time of waiting, of preparing for Christmas, this time of longing for the dawn of light and peace in the world. Peace in our own lives, peace in our families, in our communities, peace in the world. The scriptures use the word peace often, and we find it in the Christmas story. When we read these stories that may be familiar to us, I find that it’s easy to let them waft past our ears gently and fill in the surrounding sights, and make the stories that surround Jesus’ birth echo and match our desires and longings for some perfect Christmas moment, the silent, the peaceful scene. And yet…have your read these stories? Maybe the coming of peace is not actually as serene as we thought.
Take Mary for example. Mary the mother of Jesus. A figure who in our lore and tales so often is depicted in this peaceful glow, seemingly apart from anything trying or chaotic. And yet, did you hear the story we read today? The story of the Angel coming to Mary, likely as she was just going about her everyday business, and telling her that she was going to conceive a son in her womb and name him Jesus and he would be the Son of the most high, to reign over the house of David forever…

When we have the soft blue lenses with the “all is quiet and peaceful” on, we often skip straight to the last sentence, when Mary says “let it be to me as you have written” and the angel departs.

Okay, let’s think for a moment about this Mary. Maybe the story has become so common to us over the years that we forget how shocking this is. First, Mary is just going about her everyday life, from all we know. We have no reason to believe that she was asking for this or expecting it. The fact that the angel said to her, “do not be afraid” implies that her reaction at first was, understandably, one of fear. But she sticks with it. She listens. And then she does something that I find striking.

She asks a question. She’s not meek and mild. She’s actually pretty kick-ass. She has the courage and audacity to ask this angel who shows up. “How’s this going to happen?” “I’m a virgin.”

Now yes, this means what you think it means. And at that time and in the culture the idea of being pregnant without being married to the father of the child was no small thing. She was taking a major risk, particularly as she was engaged to Joseph at this time. But she keeps listening. And when she hears that it is God that will do this work, and that nothing will be impossible with God. She replies with these beautifully well worn words, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me, according to your word.”

And Mary’s song—these words of response, of praise, of proclamation that Mary sings in our gospel reading today—these are not sanitized comfy, and set-apart-from-the-world words. These are strong and powerful words about how the incarnate God’s coming into the world breaks into the systems of oppression and the hunger and the violence, and calls for another way.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
… has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
… has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

Maybe Mary is more like you and me than we thought. Seeking to follow God in the midst of chaotic times. Calling for a world where hungry bellies are filled and those who are abusing power are humbled, a turning of our economic disparity and a world where peace is tangible for all. Making choices that were incredibly risky to her own being, to courageously follow the call of God—to engage God with us, coming into her life and into the world.

In the orthodox tradition Mary is called the “theotokos” a Greek word that means “God-bearer” or “birth-giver of God” and “the one who gives birth to God.” This is different, in my mind than being the “Mother of God.” And it opens up interesting possibilities and curiosities about the theological traditions of immaculate conception. That to be the theotokos maybe is not about being pure and already divine, but actually about being fully human and responding with a courage and strength to carry the divine.
There’s a passage in Swedenborgian theology that strikes me as relevant in this conversation…

“Before anything is brought back into order, it is quite normal for it to be brought first into a kind of confusion, a virtual chaos.” (Secrets of Heaven 842) This passage goes on to say that is through this process that we experience as confusion, even chaos, that the Lord re-arranges things, sorts things, and puts them in order.
This leads me to believe that in order to find the peace, that sense of God’s presence with us, we have to be willing to engage the chaos, the reality of the world around us, not to hide from it or avoid it, instead—to see it, to listen, to name it and then go to the Lord and offer our willingness to respond.

As much as we want to sanitize these stories, to make them something outside of our realm—clean, pretty, peaceful—it’s difficult once you read them. And listen again. Because we find out what the Incarnation, the coming of the Christ was not about.
It was not about something separated from the reality of humanity, of the suffering and questioning, joy and human feeling and vulnerability. It’s about the Light coming into the darkness, and the Prince of Peace showing up in the chaos of the world.
It’s like the bell at the beginning of our worship time together.

That silence that we find inside even with the chaos happening around us, God’s still small voice with us. Here’s the thing about peace—real peace, internal peace, lasting peace—it’s not about getting away or avoiding what is around us. It’s about finding God in the midst of it.

Because yet again, we’re shown how Emmanuel, God with us does not behave the way we might expect or show up in the pretty tidy picture we expect. The angels did not go to the rulers in the center of town, or the rabbis in the temple to share the good news. Instead they showed up in the darkness, in the cold, on the margins, in and amongst the daily tasks that were being done, bringing “good news of great joy… Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all people!”
And this, my friends, is the message these stories of Advent keep returning me to this year—it’s not about finding peace “out there,” or about one perfect fix for our life struggle or the world—“if I just___”. “If we just….” The story of Advent invites us, reminds us, calls us to be people of hope, people of life, people who continue to show up and look for and work for goodness and transformation.
Because yes, there is darkness, there is hunger—spiritually and naturally. We live in a world where we see division and isolation, poverty of body and spirit. We each are living real human lives and we carry with us loss and longing along with our desires and hopes. And it is in and amongst all of this that Emmanuel, God of incarnation offers us hope.
Hope not devoid from the trouble and pain, just as silence is not devoid of sounds, and peace is not devoid of chaos. No the hope, the peace, comes as the Prince of Peace comes, in and amongst all the messiness of life. In and amongst our family systems, in and amongst a world that’s experiencing hunger and poverty. Showing us again and again that God isn’t far away and inaccessible.
And that God came down, Love incarnate, right here, as a human, with humans, born by a human because divinity and humanity are inexplicably intertwined, God is right here. In that moment when we open our eyes and see the light in a new way. As one hand reaches out to another, offers that gentle squeeze of knowing. In the silence, amid the sounds of voices and questions and confusion, Christ is born. The presence of love come to earth, then and now. Emmanuel. God is with us. Amen.

A Sermon About Fear and Love and Courage and God with Us

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12.6.15
The Garden Church
Rev. Anna Woofenden
Scripture: Isaiah 40:1-8, Luke 3: 3-6

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel, God with us.

I find myself grasping for words to respond after another act of violence strikes, and this time so close to us, while we try to distance ourselves to keep the horror away. I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how to make it all better. I struggle with the rage that rises in me every time one human being inflicts violence on another human being. I don’t want to live in fear. And yet, I am afraid. I find myself looking at people differently when I walk into a public space. I open up the news browser and I tense, not knowing what will be there. I feel fear. I do not want to. But I do.

Today is the Second Sunday in Advent. Advent is a term we use in the Christian tradition for the weeks leading up to Christmas, a time of preparation for the birth of Christ, of the coming of Light into the world. Advent is a time of waiting and anticipating, Advent is a time of preparation, of clearing out a space for God’s love and light to enter the world and enter our lives.

When we think about “preparing for Christmas,” I know what often comes first to mind are the lists of gifts to purchase and events to go to, cards to write and parties to plan. And certainly this is all part of this season and can bring joy to us and the people around us. Yet while we’re doing that, let us consider some deeper layers of preparation that we’re being invited to. Preparing for more Light shining into our lives and the world, clearing out and opening up spaces for love. Preparing the way for the Lord.

In our gospel reading today, we hear from John, the baptizer, this prophet who went ahead of Jesus, ahead of the Light coming into the world, and called people to repentance.

Now I need to give a quick explanation of this word “repentance” because it’s one of those religious words we can—understandably—be allergic to, picturing fisted preachers slamming the Bible down on the pulpit demanding our repentance—or else. Or we might think of sandwich board signs on the street corners, with people calling for us to repent because the end is near. No, my friends, this is not the repentance we talk about here or what we find in this gospel message. The word “repentance” in the gospel is the word “metanoia”—to change our minds, to turn, to be transformed.

The preparation is one of intention and purpose, noticing where crooked ways in us need to be made straight, where mountains and hills need to be leveled, where rough places can be gently smoothed.

The repentance, the preparation we are called to is maybe quite simple really, yet revolutionary. We’re called to open up to the way of Love, to the way of Light in the world. Dear ones, how we need this. This promise of Love, of Emmanuel, God with us.

Not the God somewhere far away who makes bad things happen or snaps his fingers and fixes things. Not the God who loves one group of people or religious path and smites another. No, the promise we long for and claim today is that promise of Emmanuel, God with us. The God of complete and expansive love, a love for all that She has created. The God of our Muslim brothers and sisters, the God of those who are living in poverty, the God who weeps over every act of violence and harm we inflict on each other in the human family, and the God who slipped into human skin and in the body of Jesus showed us by his actions what God looks like as he reached out across barriers and touched and interacted and healed those that others shunned, as he fed people and questioned the crushing power of those in authority, and exuded love for the least of these.

God’s coming into the world did not eliminate or annihilate all the pain and suffering in the world, but it gives us the possibility to be transformed by it, to be part of the force for healing, and to no longer be defined by it.

Marin Tirabassi, in writing a poem titled “O antiphon for our fears”, gives us these words:

O Emmanuel, hailed by clueless Gabriel,
who thinks we can
shake off being afraid,
Come to us in our fear.
We fear the past and the future.
We fear those who are unlike us
in any way,
and we fear family members
who should not hurt us but do.
We fear chemo and COPD,
and any kind of mental illness diagnosis.
We fear heroin.
We fear small spaces and high ones,
food and poverty and bullies,
dirt and death,
dangerous work places, joblessness,
retirement
and being asked to play.
We fear forgetting people,
being forgotten,
not being able to retrieve a name.
We fear labor and delivery
and the impossible responsibility
of being a parent.
We fear naming autism,
claiming a gender identity,
or a recovery or a religious faith,
not to speak of falling in love,
being late,
or enjoying solitude.
We fear for our children,
and for our parents.

We fear terrorism, injustice, war,
and global warming,
guns in the hands of those who are unstable,
and guns in the hands of police,
and we correctly fear angels who invite us
to choose to make a difference.
Come to us in all our fears,
Emmanuel,
so they do not define us. Amen

Come to us in all our fears, Emmanuel. Not because God magically eliminates our fears, but because we must not be defined by them.

When we become defined by our fears, we perpetuate them. We begin to act from them. We shut down and we clamp down and we want to close off to the world.

Close our borders, close our eyes, close our hearts, close our minds. I find this is what fear calls out in me. To shut down. And shut all people out. And the world out.

Thomas Aquinas once said: “fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.”

And this, dear ones, in unacceptable. It is unacceptable to let fear drive compassion right out of our hearts. I believe that our well being and the well being of the world rests in this hard truth. We may be afraid, but we cannot let ourselves be defined by it.

It’s not about not having fear. It’s about admitting that we have fear, and then choosing to stand in truth and in love. The way of Emmanuel, the God with us, was not to avoid the dark and difficult places of our world, it was not to stay far away up in a heaven far away, Emmanuel come to earth born as a vulnerable baby, in the middle of a world that was struggling with forces and powers of oppression and terror.

Emmanuel come to earth in this state of utter and complete vulnerability, and calls us not to ignore our fears, but to name them and see God coming to us in them, so they don’t define us.

Because this Jesus, this Christ that we are anticipating, that we are preparing for, this is the Light that is always pressing and urging to come into the world. This is the love that takes our fearful and hardened hearts and cracks them open to engage in the world.

And so as we prepare for the way of the Lord, as we align ourselves to welcome the Light and the Love, to receive and to share the Light and the Love, we notice and we name our fears. We notice those parts of our path where we need God’s help to make crooked places straight. We look at the world around us and breathe and take in the depths of the valleys that need to be filled with healing and change, and the egos and agendas standing on mountaintops that need to be brought low. As we prepare for the way of the Lord, we ask for holy sandpaper to make those rough places in us smooth, to work over the places in us that get prickly and push away that which is vulnerable, to break off those hooks that snag us in a way of thinking and feeling that is not aligned with love.

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We lay strips of yarn on the altar, representing our fears…

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…surrounding the advent wreath, which we light…

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…remembering the Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome and the Love that is beyond all fears.

Amen.

Vulnerability

photo“I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” –Brené Brown


The day before Thanksgiving the right side of my body and a sidewalk had an abrupt and violent encounter.
My shoulder burst into searing pain, I tried to stand, felt the world close in, sat down again on the sidewalk, and felt the vulnerability of pain.

A few weeks later I sit on the rug in my bedroom and feel the muscles around my upper arm and back twinge as I use careful motions as my pen moves across the page.

“It feels vulnerable” is how I described my shoulder when the doc and then the acupuncturist moved it around to access the damage. Painful, tender, and vulnerable.

Vulnerability is a word that has been present in my life of late. It’s vulnerable to move yet again to a new place, with new people, start from scratch building relationships and community. Vulnerable to be staring the end of graduate school in the face and knowing that student loans end in May, and salary, health insurance, housing, and all those other necessary things are not yet a known quantity on the other side. Vulnerability of yet again taking large life steps as a single person, with the freedom, and the deep loneliness of moving through these decisions on my own. Vulnerability around my family of origin as final steps of my parents recent divorce are approaching. And vulnerability that over the last few months I have said out loud in a variety of settings, “I am going to plant a church.” Without knowing exactly where, when, or how, I keep saying out loud this call and vision that God is growing within me and around me. Speaking something into being that I have yet to know is possible. It’s audacious. It’s vulnerable.

Mary, Mary the mother of Jesus comes into my meditation as I walk up the hill. Great with Child, traveling away from home, prepared to birth the Son of God, carrying the one who she knew was destined to turn the world upside down. And yet, here she was, in Bethlehem, far from her family and community, and without even a room at the in. I wonder if she wished that she were back home in her own bed, with her mother and sisters nearby. I wonder if she would have said she felt vulnerable.

I go home and pull up the Ted Talk on Vulnerability. Damn your deep, wise, hits-too-close-to-home, wisdom Brene Brown. She winds up her talk with with these words:

“Let ourselves be seen…deeply seen, vulnerability seen. To love with our whole hearts, knowing that there is no guarantee. Practicing gratitude and joy in the moments of terror… I’m so grateful—to feel this vulnerable means I am alive.”

To feel this vulnerable means I am alive. The crisp air at the top of the mountain had a similar effect.

As does Advent. Divinity incarnated through deep vulnerability. God didn’t show up fully-grown, clothed in armor, or sleek and strong with black-belt karate moves. God came to this earth and slipped into the skin of baby Jesus. Carried by a mother who as young and vulnerable herself. Traveling far from home, no place to lay her head, let alone give birth to the Son of God. And it is this tale of vulnerability that ushers in the Divine presence in human form. It is this Christ, this anointed one, who says “come and follow me.” The One who embodied vulnerability as the gateway to life.

It’s scary writing this blog post. I don’t like being vulnerable. Especially in public. And yet this is part of being alive. Being human. Being created by the Divine.

And so I write. And share. And remember. And pray. And I keep rubbing Arnica in my shoulder, honoring this world of flesh and divinity, strength in vulnerability.

A gift of physical pain can be the reminder of vulnerability. And a gift of vulnerability is being open to others and alive to life. May it be.

Divine Tension of Anticipation

Anticipate: to realize beforehand; foretaste or foresee: to anticipate pleasure.
Anticipate: to expect; look forward to; be sure of; to anticipate a favorable decision

The advent season is one of anticipation. Of waiting… Of preparation… Of looking forward to the special Christmas day… When the concepts of anticipation and Christmas come together, I picture the look on a child’s face when December 1st rolls around. Waiting for Christmas becomes a month-long celebration. Some wake up each morning, ready to open the next door of the advent calendar. People scurry around making gifts and tucking them at the back of the closet or in that hidden spot in the crawl space, waiting for their Christmas morning unveiling. As children, the month of December can seem like an eternity, 24 whole doors on the advent calendar to open before one can wake up to the delight of Christmas morning.

Parents in the month of December are called to work with their children on discipline. “Nope, you can’t open doors for December 17th and 22nd today—today is December 3rd.” “You can shake and poke the presents from Grandma under the tree, but don’t think about peeling the tape back on the corner of the box”.  There’s something charged and magical in the waiting along with the frustration and restraint.

What of our discipline in advent?  What do we anticipate as we approach the celebration of Christ’s birth, Divinity Incarnate on earth? I’ll admit that I’m not so far from the ways of childhood, when it comes to Christmas. I get excited when the lights start going up on the trees and I’ve been madly knitting gifts for weeks now. I anticipate Christmas concerts and meals with friends and family and await the gentle glow of candlelight traditions.

Anticipate: to realize beforehand; foretaste or foresee: to anticipate pleasure.
Anticipate: to expect; look forward to; be sure of; to anticipate a favorable decision

There is something in the waiting that feels sacred to me. There’s a care in the preparations that speaks to the precious nature of the holiday we’re approaching. I am seeing God in this tension, in the waiting, the anticipation. Maybe anticipation is God’s gift to us, the foretaste of God’s goodness, the spark of light in a darkened world. We anticipate, prepare, and stay in the tension because we look forward to a dream being realized; we feel God’s vision of the future we are working towards.

When we live in the anticipation as a Divine gift, we can find the sacred, the joy of knowing that something beautiful is coming, the energy and excitement to persevere, the trust and patience to wait. We anticipate the end of a season. We anticipate a shift in our attitudes. We anticipate a change in a relationship, a new home, conquering an inner battle, mastering a skill, or the passing of time.

We can live into the anticipation as a gift, or we can see it as a burden. We can wake up each day and curse the fact that it is not yet Christmas morning, be bitter and twisted about the greener grass across the way and threaten to rip open all the gifts under the tree. We can live our lives in a way that would cause us to walk into a darkened room, throw on every bank of lights, and flood the room with a harsh fluorescent glare to see what’s there—RIGHT NOW.

Or… The people who walked in darkness, saw a great light. Those who dwelt in the shadow of death, upon them a light has shone. The light is out there—flickering in the darkness. The Christ light shines, beckoning us to draw near, to follow, to anticipate. In this advent season, we are reminded to walk in spiritual disciplines, to breathe in the tension between what we look towards and what is. To engage in the sacred dance of anticipation. To be present in each moment, each breath. To look for the Christ light shining in our midst.