Advent is the season of preparation as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
This is a very very different Advent for me and I not feeling anchored at all. This is my first Advent in over thirty years where I was not worshipping at a church on a regular basis and not participating in a daily Advent devotional. The season began two weeks ago when I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and I was hardly aware that it was the first Sunday of this holy season.
In the past I prepared to prepare as pondered in advance themes for the season and the ways in which the congregation and I would not only worship but engage in acts of devotion and service. This year - none of that. It appears that we are half way through and I am just realizing it.
I am participating in an Ignatian "Retreat in Daily Life" which means daily prayer and weekly spiritual direction. And we are now spending some time reflecting on some of the Advent scriptures and they are of course, very familiar but - as always - present opportunities for deeper engagement with God and the surprises that can come through prayer and meditation.
One text that is always pondered is Joseph's dream as recorded in Matthew.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah* took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ 22All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ 24When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son;* and he named him Jesus.
What strikes me again about this familiar story is how Joseph is faced with the "problem" of a pregnant Mary and comes to what is a compassionate plan to "dismiss her quietly." And God intervenes through a dream. And his plans change. What I see in this is how easily we settle for our plans and how God wants us to be part of a bigger story if only we will take a risk and follow the subtle guidance of a dream, or a whisper in the night, or a nudge in the daylight.
Yesterday my friend Cathy shared a poem by David Whyte that expresses this life of faith. This is the beginning of it.
What to Remember When Waking --by David Whyte (Dec 30, 2013)
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other more secret,
moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began
, there is a small opening into the new day which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents you were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged.
My plans for this weekend are as follows - to spend time today with friends in ministry, to be with grandchildren, to lead a retreat, to go to a party and to church on Sunday. Those are some of my plans. My prayer is that God's plan is larger than mine and that I will be open to the leadings of Advent that are preparing me for the birth that is coming.
May it be so.