Advent is for the Underdogs

Happy New Year! Merry Christmastide! It’s still Christmas, you know. In the community Luke and I were a part of at this time last year, we had just started singing Christmas carols. In Advent, our friends described, we wait. Once Christmastide actually comes around, then we celebrate. When the Comfort and the Joy and the Peace finally crack the caked-on expectation then we sing.

So this season, to pay homage to my friends in Wilmore, I worked at waiting. Working at waiting is kind of horrible which is why I don’t think most of us are all that good at it. I’m much better at telling myself that I should buy or talk or change or go or do. Mental gymnastics are a true sport- the only one I’ve ever been good at, and usually, it involves convincing myself of myself- that is my own rightness, my aspirations, my dearest sentiments…you know, only the important things.

So, when we practice the  church calendar and sip on waiting, we are forced to slow it on-down and face the things outside of us. Sometimes it disrupts the merry-making. Sure, silence can be contemplative and restorative, but if we are honest, it is also just wretched. Miracles are more apparent when we reflect but so is tragedy. People are still exploiting other people. Death is still ugly and still comes unexpectedly. Securities are still fake. And sure worrying is futile but still.  I can’t help but feel full of feelings when I reflect for just a moment, with these deeper things. Dear old world, while many things are very alive and lovely in you, oh how things are far from right! Fruits like justice and compassion are beautiful, but for the victims and the grief-stricken it’s altogether too late and insufficient. Some merry mystery isn’t it? Some merry mystery that I can sit here in wordy speculation while, hello, these are actual realities. This is the stuff of sharp hunger pangs, and searing loss and shivering bodies. My little Advent journal with it’s scratched out words and copied over verses and heartfelt prayers feel like some tinsel-y perfunctory Christmas package in the face of a cosmic heart-hole.

The real mysteries are not easy ones. They tug at you and make you feel woozy and anxious like any heart-hole would. But to overlook mystery is to choose instead, control, and to choose instead, control means to choose more of you and less of God. And choosing more of you and less of God makes it hard for God to be with us. We are not good receivers of God when we are puffed up by the alluring magic of self-sufficiency and comfort. The Ancient World had trouble receiving too. They expected a larger than life Deliverer. A David or a Saul. They received, instead, a baby from Nazareth born to an unwed woman. It was very weird and perfectly redemptive, and while history is replete with gods, sacrifice and love, I believe the Christian story is unique in God sending Holiness as a person. And what’s more is this person with feelings and appetites and desires, became power-less, home-less and eventually life-less. Less. Less. Less.

So this is where the heart-throbbing tension of the world becomes a little more hopeful. This is where I remember, in that silence, that indeed, the tenderness of God is with the world. But oh, how the tenderness of God is with the underdogs! Jesus was a holy underdog.  If you dig deeper into the Scriptures, His lineage wasn’t anything to write home about. But the writers of scripture did. They did write home about Rahab and Ruth and Tamar because in the quiet ones, the forgotten ones, the scandalous ones, God was creating the FULLNESS OF LIFE. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the heartbroken. Blessed are the old people. Blessed are the poor people. Blessed are the married people. Blessed are the single people. Blessed are the awkward people. Blessed are the sick people. Blessed are the underdogs. Mysteries are not what they seem and neither is the Kingdom of God, and as the Advent story would have it, when we are lessen-ed and small-ened, God’s presence is more and more at hand.

So, in my waiting and reflecting, I resolved to try and stop putting my soul out there on an auction table.  I’ll try to stop the cerebral back handsprings that give air to my hopes for some wild success or some deep admiration or some satiating adventure. However, I must be an underdog. I must get off my pedestal and release the things I think will keep me there. I must small-en myself like God small-ened his self, open up my hands and listen to another voice and another way besides my own. I could tell you 1001 ways I don’t do this. Yet in the face of such earnest striving and stark shortcomings, I am confronted again with my own need for deliverance. God, in our own and in each other’s and in the world’s desperation, help us partner with You, turn this world upside down with You and receive the gift of You. The real, rich, bread and water, food in your belly kind of gift. And while tinsel and ribbon and nostalgia, may suffice for a quick minute, it just doesn’t if you listen deep.

Listen. Do you hear what I hear? The slave is our brother. The world is weary. And by the power of God, the hopes and fears of all the years answered themselves in baby-smallness. May we be wise and small and  underdog-ish enough to receive Jesus.

Love image

(= Redemption.) from Ann Voskamps blog “A Holy Experience” 

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