Sunday, December 18, 2011

Thoughts on Advent

This is the first chance I’ve had this week to sit down and write. The past week was full of good things. But does anyone else thrive with a full day of nothing in particular to do except maybe laundry or making a meal or doing some yard work? Since I have to be out of the house by 7:05 on Monday through Thursday mornings, 8:20 on Friday, and 7:55 on Sunday, Saturday is a cherished day. Saturday morning is my lazy morning.

In this case, lazy really means slow. I love eating breakfast while reading a book or magazine or cookbook or my Bible and wrestling with ideas as the early morning light streams in through the window. I typically have a cooking project on the weekends and a lazy Saturday lends itself to yeast breads and slow-cooking soups. I can spend time planning my menu for the week, running small errands, and attending to the daily-ness of life at my own pace.

Two Saturdays ago, my housemate and I went for a long walk. Across Mill Road is a neighborhood that has a trail to and along the little Spokane River. As we neared the river, we walked on a trail covered with sodden leaves, and that wonderful smell of winter—wet, fresh, crisp—was all around. I love the winter landscape with no snow. It’s bare and sere and quiet and waiting. Perhaps that’s why Advent falls during winter; Advent is a season of anticipation and stillness before the glory of the angels over Bethlehem or the exotic visit of the Three Kings. Advent is the bare-of-snow winter landscape to the lush glory of new-fallen-snow Christmas.

I just love Advent. It might be my favorite time of the Church Year. I love the songs, the Scriptures full of Isaiah and Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary, the anticipation, and the longing. I love how the Church Year gives voice to the range of human emotions—longing and waiting in Advent, wonder and joy at Christmas, mourning and sadness at Lent, glory and grandeur at Easter, excitement and exhortation at Pentecost, and daily-ness in Ordinary Time.

Yesterday, I climbed a mountain. I was with friends in Coeur d’Alene, and we climbed Canfield Mountain, which is approximately 4,500 feet high. We were mostly quiet as we hiked, which gave my mind the freedom to roam the vast plains of spiritual metaphor as we made our climb. The day was gloriously sunny and the vista from the top was breath-taking. I couldn’t help but think that God sometimes grants us mountain-top experiences in our faith, beautiful vistas where we see with startling clarity the grandeur of God’s plan and our place in it. And yet, as glorious as the mountain top proved to be, it was the climb to the top that I cherished in hindsight. It was the hike up where I noticed the elk prints in the snow. The line of trees reflected in the water of the lake below. The snow clinging to evergreen boughs. The knobbly branches of the tamarack. The small things. The daily ways in which God’s grand plan of salvation and redemption plays out in ordinary human life.

Leaf mold. Winter air. Walking. Spending time with loved ones. A lazy Saturday.

I don’t know when God will give me another mountain-top experience, the Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. But in the meantime, I’m living with the climb, with the steady pace of day-to-day. Ordinary time. And yet, hidden in each day, is a kernel of longing. Advent. Longing for the world to be as God intended. For justice and righteousness to rule. For grace and mercy to abound. For love to bind up the broken-hearted. For Christ to come again.  

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