Friday, December 17, 2010

Still, no baby...

For the last several weeks, I have gathered with friends to participate in "Advent conversations". On Sundays, the conversations have taken place in a Sunday School classroom and on Thursdays, they have taken place in a coffee house. These times of talking and listening have really enriched my Advent journey and have caused me to think a lot about what it means to live in anticipation. Of course, I do not need any lessons on anticipation this year. After all, I have been dreaming of what shape this new faith community will take, waiting for news that Kevin has been offered a job in Jacksonville, and listening for how the pieces of our lives will fit together.

I'm starting to wonder, though if maybe Advent is not about learning to wait, but is more about surrendering to the mystery of what lies beyond our waiting. This is a very challenging idea, I know. I want to plan, predict and imagine the possibilities; yet, the events of the first Christmas remind me that even with all of my dreaming, I can never imagine the way that love, joy, hope and peace will break into our lives. Few would have expected it to happen in a stable, in the form of a tiny baby, or through an unwed mother.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the altar at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church looked much like a scene from the wilderness. There were no clusters of greenery, no poinsettias on display, and no Christ child anywhere to be found. In fact, even on this third week of Advent, the stable remains empty. Part of me wants to go ahead and get it over with - someone please put the baby in the manger so this stable does not look so bare! It just isn't right! I am so eager to have my expectations fulfilled; yet, truthfully, our expectations are seldom fulfilled. Sometimes we are left wanting, other times we could never have imagined things would have unfolded so wonderfully. In either case, we could never have predicted the end results of our waiting.

My prayer is that in each of our anticipations, we will have the courage to live into each moment, not dwelling on expectations, but surrendering to the One who has and who will be born again in people, places and possibilities beyond our imaginations. Instead of fostering impatience, I pray that the empty stable will prompt a greater awareness of where Christ is waiting to be born in and among us.

Blessings as we continue on our Advent journeys...

Saturday, December 4, 2010


This morning, I helped to plant the first fruit trees in a community orchard sponsored by Sustainable Springfield. Because I have a history of causing more harm than good when it comes to plants, I am crossing my fingers that these trees survive! It did not take very long, but I left with dirty hands and the anticipation of a Spring harvest.

I also left with the realization that there's something really important about putting bare hands into dirt. I realized how seldom I do it. I, like many of us learned from a young age to stay clean (particularly as a girl raised in the south), not to mess up, and to hide my messes at all cost. Somewhere in all of this avoidance of "dirt", I suppose I bought into the cliche that "cleanliness is next to godliness". I was reminded today that it is in the dirt that fruit trees take root, and that it's in the dirt of our lives that new life emerges.

This week's Old Testament Advent text from Isaiah declares that after all of the ravage of war and the estrangement from home, "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (NRSV, Isaiah 11:1). In the face of an uncertain future, the Israelites were challenged to remain hopeful and to embrace their humility as opportunity. Their deliverance would not come from a mighty king, but would come from an unlikely source - - from "dirt".

As we turn to this week's gospel reading we also find some rather primitive beginnings. John the Baptist, the prophet announcing the coming Messiah, delivers his message from the wilderness. He was described as wearing clothing made from camel's hair and eating locusts. From this setting of dust and dirt, John announces the coming of the kingdom of God.

I can's help but ask - what's up with all of this dirt? Why is it that prophets speak of and speak from places of such scarcity? Is there something instrumental about the dirt in delivering visions of peace and hope? If this is so, then all of this time of avoiding the mess has been in vain. While I've been told that "cleanliness is next to godliness", it is quite the opposite. The prophets declared that from the scarcity of the earth a Savior would be born, and the God of Advent can be found in the scarcity of our lives. The God of Advent is waiting to be born in our scarcity, in our struggles, disappointments, failures, and scandals - - may we not only see the "dirt", but have the courage to anticipate what will sprout up as we wait in hope.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I have never been good at waiting. Anyone who has given me a gift knows that I can't help trying to guess what's inside before I even begin unwrapping it. I get impatient in long lines, filled waiting rooms and after being placed on “hold”. Unfortunately, on average I (we) spend around an hour every day...waiting. For some of us, we wait even longer – for test results, for forgiveness, for employment, for something, anything to come along and move us in a new direction.

I have often heard Advent referred to as “waiting” for Christmas, as if it will unfold again just as it has every year, as if we already know exactly what it is we are waiting for. I find this very inconsistent with the true spirit of Advent. When we re-read the biblical story, we find anything but the fulfillment of pre-conceived expectations. Jesus did not come as a warrior king, he came as a defenseless baby. His parents were not wealthy aristocrats, but were poor teenagers. Jesus was not born in luxury, but in a manger, an animal trough. Those who waited for the birth of Jesus to unfold in a predictable fashion found themselves disappointed and disillusioned - he could not possibly be the One they had waited so long for!

This Advent, I am hoping to be alert to where and how God will be born again in and around me. In Signs of Emergence, Kester Brewing reminds us that we cannot wait with too many formed ideas of where and how this birth will take place, of where and how Christ will be found.

"We must stop. Wait. ...Begin to dream where God might now like to be found. Not in the house, but in a stable; not in Jerusalem, but from Nazareth; not with his family, but in the temple; not in the temple, but with the sick, the poor; the disinterested, the ordinary, the real, the drinkers, smokers, jokers, deviators, and slackers..."
It is with this spirit of anticipation that I look forward to gathering with friends for the next four weeks of Advent to share in conversation, reflection and listening. We will meet at Three Layers in Springfield at 5pm (in the back room) beginning tomorrow night. As we share in great food and friendship, I am excited about how we can encourage one another to engage in the true spirit of Advent - - not simply waiting for Christmas to get here, but participating in God's re-birth in our time and place.

Thanks to