In a consumer society, we wait for the big sale days – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and eventually Boxing Day. We wait for great deals. We save up our money or ensure there is room on our credit cards. Whoever gets the most stuff for the least money wins.
If you’re not out shopping on those days, you might be watching sports, like college football or international hockey.
Obtaining and observing – that’s what draws the crowds these days. We wait for the sales to start so we can obtain more and we wait for the game to start so we can observe more.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am capable of obtaining and observing with the best of them. Books, mainly, in the obtaining category. The Toronto Blue Jays, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tottenham Hotspurs in the observing category. I just don’t do it as often as I used to.
In my Christian tradition of spirituality, Advent is a season of waiting for the coming of God. What I’m waiting for more these days are things like love, joy, and peace, like patience, kindness and generosity, like faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Christians, among many others, see these things are seen as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They are the qualities of life that enable human beings to contribute to the coming of the Commonwealth of God. This is the flourishing dynamic of being fully alive in community with every part of the creation.
The space in which we wait for those things is often considered to be a wilderness, like the one the beneficiaries of the Exodus wandered around for 40 years, like the one John the Baptist came out of announcing the coming of Jesus, the Christ, like the one Jesus went through immediately after his baptism.
Wilderness is a place of deprivation and testing. However and whenever it may happen in our lives, we are stripped of our usual comfortable possessions and practices. Life becomes more bare and basic, more dark and scary. Life, certainly life as we’ve known it, disappears. These are the Badlands. There are threats behind every rock and every bush. And we feel alone - very alone. Where does help come from in such a wilderness situation?
The Christian answer to that question, rooted in the promises of God that shaped the Jewish and Muslim traditions as well, is Emmanuel – God-with-us. This is a God who is with us in the wilderness, who protects and helps us in the wilderness, who uses the wilderness experience to impress upon us the prime importance of the gifts listed above, who lavishes those gifts on those ready to accept them. In the presence and providence of this God, we find our true home, no matter what the wilderness feels like.
So, during this Advent, I wait for new insights into the rich blessings that this profligate God showers on all of creation. I cultivate, as forbearers in my Presbyterian religious tradition have done, a teachable spirit. I open my soul to God to be nourished to flourish. This is hardly a passive waiting. It is an active searching in the wilderness for signals of God’s presence and providential power, inviting me to join the adventure of bringing in the Commonwealth of God.
The image that accompanies this article is by John Stuart, a Scot who ministers in East Tennessee. He does amazing stuff with crayons. See for yourself at www.stushieart.com. This rendering of Mary and Joseph and Jesus arriving in Bethlehem, out of a deep darkness, suggests to me the active waiting of pregnancy, the excitement of birth, the obligations of nurturing, and the grace of a growing life.
Time and again, Jesus faced wilderness experiences. Time and again, he discovered that God was with him. At this time, and steadfastly into the future, he reminds us of the things in life that point most powerfully to God’s providential presence - love, joy, and peace, like patience, kindness and generosity, like faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. God is with us as we wait actively for these things to come to fruition more fully in us and through us.
So, as I obtain and observe during this 2016 holiday season, I will pay even more attention to how I am finding and enhancing those gifts of God that take us through the wildernesses of our lives to our home with God. I invite you to do the same.
Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership. You can find out more at www.jazzthink.com and www.brentwoodpc.ca.
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spirituallly Speaking, HERE