Tell of Peace: Advent and Imagination

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It can’t be Advent already.

Thanksgiving coming so late this year has really screwed me up. Expectations and visions and to-do lists are clamoring for my ever-dwindling attention. The last thing I feel is any semblance of peace, much less a mindset that is ready to turn to this familiar season of waiting and watching in hope.

But in a way…being forced to belly flop ever-so-un-gracefully into this season means I’ve got no choice. There’s no time for any waffling or hedging, and I can’t just stand around kicking rocks looking up at the sky for some sign. If there’s anything that characterizes this season it’s urgency. From the beginning of Mark’s gospel:

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

It’s JB in the wilderness baptizing people to get ready for the arrival of one who would carry God’s spirit. And *BAM*, Jesus eventually shows up, gets baptized and goes straight into the wilderness to get ready for his world-changing ministry – that revolution of hearts and spirits. Mark gets us there quickly. No blushing bride, no donkeys or sheep, no stars and angels in their heavenly choruses.

So, yes, Advent is definitely a time of waiting, searching, listening and hoping but we don’t get to sit around on the side with our toes gingerly touching the water…no uncertain and slow wading into it. It’s run and jump with legs pumping the air into the pool like it’s the first day of summer break not worrying about how pretty it looks – or likely not – or else be tossed in.

I feel like I’ve been tossed in. Chased down by those friends or cousins I thought I’d kept a careful eye on but apparently not because here I am in the air and now water up my nose. And I’m thrashing about like a fish caught in a net. But that’s ok. Jesus caught my heart years ago, and continues to do it each year. These traditions and rituals might seem rote but the way it speaks into every season of my life each year is unspeakably important. And it gets better and better each year when I don’t fight it. I’ve finally figured that out. Kind of. That this season calls for recklessly abandoned hearts to see the beauty of the story of a God who recklessly gave up all to be with us. And to do so means jumping in or being forced in and letting God’s spirit take the lead. And that means imagination.

Something about the poetry of the season is much more resonant with God’s spirit then just straight facts or history. I love all the commentaries but what speaks to the corners of my soul is the poetry of Isaiah:

In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.

These images are glimpses of a different kind of world – one that may seem impossible – but one that is nonetheless promised to God’s people. It is God’s kingdom. Andy pointed out something maybe obvious but it was new to me: The people. It is the people who will change and shape their weapons of destruction and violence into tools that will cultivate life. And that was encouraging to me…to realize that we will be the instruments of change God will use to usher in peace. The cynic in me wants to say, “That can’t be right,” and the almost careless, but desperate side says, “Please, Lord, hear our prayer.” It’s the poet that awakens this in me, the poet who invokes my imagination – the language of God’s spirit – to see and pray for the impossible.

I don’t think I’m ready for Advent, yet. But, it’s here. And thank God. Lord knows, I need it this season. I need it more than ever.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

6 thoughts on “Tell of Peace: Advent and Imagination

  • December 2, 2013 at 1:09 am
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    Reading this tonight when I’m too tired, but it is lovely, Mihee, and I will return to it this week and perhaps share it with a friend. Grace and love to you.

    • December 2, 2013 at 5:12 pm
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      Linda, I miss you so much! Huggggeee hugs to you, Erika, Bob, and Evan. You are in our thoughts and conversations so much. We still plan to make a trip out there some day … soonish.

  • December 2, 2013 at 10:07 am
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    Thank you for your good and true words to usher in the advent season, Mihee! Along with your words, the gently falling snowflakes remind me of how God’s spirit gently moves through these days, inviting us to follow in a direction we might not plan to take on our own. Enjoy this season!

    • December 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm
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      Amy, your persistent presence – though far away – feels nearer whenever you grace me with your encouraging words. Thank you! I hope you and your family are well, and please give my best to them.

  • December 2, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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    We read that passage from Isaiah in conjunction with Psalm 46 this week, and I was particularly struck by verses 8-9 of that Psalm:

    Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

    The juxtaposition of “desolation” with the end of war is striking, and at first seems like a contrast with Isaiah’s vision. But while the NRSV, like most translations, sticks with “desolation,” a few translations take a different approach — “wonders” (Douhay-Rheims) or “great things” (Good News, New Century). The Message paraphrases it like this:

    Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee.

    The poetry of that version speaks to me, and reminds me that desolation can mean not only destruction, but also emptiness. “Desolation” can evoke something awe-inspiring and wild and natural. At first, I was thinking about this in conjunction with the waiting and anticipation that are often associated with Advent. But I was missing the urgency that you talk about here — and that diving-in-headfirst-urgency brings me back to the bold declaration at the beginning of this Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

    • December 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm
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      Brian, I love the psalm. And the word desolation – quickens that feeling of tension that’s so necessary and characteristic of Advent. Like how we use the word “wrecked” now to mean something hard and good. Sort of. Thanks for this again!

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