As we move into Advent we are called to listen, something we seldom take time to do in this frenetic world of over-activity. But waiting for birth, waiting for death–these are lightning times when the normal distractions of life have lost their power to take us away from God’s call to center in Christ.

During Advent we are traditionally called to contemplate death, judgment, hell, and heaven. To give birth to a baby is also a kind of death–death to the incredible intimacy of carrying a child, death to old ways of life and birth into new–and it is as strange for the parents as for the baby. Judgment: John of the Cross says that in the evening of life we shall be judged on love; not on our accomplishments, not on our successes and failure sin the worldly sense, but solely on love.

Once again, as happened during the past nearly two thousand years, predictions are being made of the time of this Second Coming, which, Jesus emphasized, “even the angels in heaven do not know.” But we human creatures, who are “a little lower than the angels,” too frequently try to set ourselves above them with our predictions and our arrogant assumption of knowledge which God hid even from the angels. Advent is not a time to declare, but to listen, to listen to whatever God may want to tell us through the singing of the stars, the quickening of a baby, the gallantry of a dying man.

Listen. Quietly. Humbly. Without arrogance.

In the first verse of “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” we sing, “Word of God, our flesh that fashioned with the fire of life impassioned,” and the marvelous mystery of incarnation shines. “Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh,” goes one of my favorite propers, for it is indeed the mystery by which we live, give birth, watch death.

When the Second Person of the Trinity entered the virgin’s womb and prepared to be born as a human baby (a particular baby, Jesus of Nazareth), his death was inevitable.

It is only after we have been enabled to say, “Be it unto me according to your Word,” that we can accept the paradoxes of Christianity. Christ comes to live with us, bringing an incredible promise of God’s love, but never are we promised that there will be no pain, no suffering, no death, but rather that these very griefs are the road to love and eternal life.

In Advent we prepare for the coming of all Love, that love which will redeem all the brokenness, wrongness, hardnesses of heart which have afflicted us -Madeleine L’Engle

I posted this passage a couple of years ago during December, when I posted a thought or poem by Madeleine L’Engle or Luci Shaw for Advent each day of December. You can see them here. As this is the first Sunday of Advent, I thought I would repost one of the passages, and this is the one that stood out to me. I have been thinking about good things and bad things and suffering lately. If there is some kind of scale for how well people can handle adversity, I would be on the low end of that scale. I think that somewhere along the line I developed a twisted, fearful idea of what it means to face adversity. I have been emailing my pastor about this, because it’s something I want to start dealing with so that I have life’s struggles in a more appropriate perspective. In his last email to me, he said:

I believe it is God’s speciality to bring good from evil. God works with us to bring good out of all the stupid and evil things we do, and God is so good at this alchemy that people think God planned it. I don’t believe that.

I love that word, alchemy. That’s what Madeleine L’Engle is talking about, too, this surprising redemption that we celebrate during Advent. And so I am going to take her advice and try to listen this year. Our Advent theme at church this year is about Mary, the first disciple, and I am looking forward to hearing her “old familiar story” again, letting it wash over me anew.

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