Once a year, having waited to the very end of December, my wife and I dress up. Some people wait a lifetime to start living, but fortunately for us, New Year’s Eve intervenes every year. With mortality staring us right in the face, we get around to that date we should have had months ago. Rexene looks absolutely stunning in a cocktail dress. (How many times does a pastor’s wife get to wear a cocktail dress?)
My neighborhood offers Christmas shoppers lots of help: the counters are full, and the windows have been elegantly displaying gift suggestions since mid-October. I am led to ponder the original gift that generated this phenomenon of Christmas—a small, quiet, intimate gift of love in the birth of a child.
The glad song Mary sings to her cousin Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel functions like a lighted magnifying glass. It illumines, making possible the discernment of something that was there all the time, but difficult to see without aid. Mary sings of the whole new order of things that God is creating all around us, one in which the hungry are filled with good things and the rich, who have unwisely filled up on so much that does not satisfy, are emptied so that they can have their real hungers met at last.
It’s my favorite time of year—though I never heard the word Advent until my mother brought home an Advent calendar one year. Presbyterians didn’t observe Advent in western Pennsylvania in those days. I learned about it from the brightly decorated calendar with its tiny paper doors, one for each December day until Christmas.
The angel said, "Fear not."“Fear not” is one of the standard opening lines that angels use to calm humans when they meet them, but it rarely does any good, and it certainly didn’t do any good on this night. At the first sound coming from the angel’s mouth, all eight shepherds fell flat on their faces. They were shaking and clinging to the earth as if crawling back into the dust from which they came might save them this night.
After days of protests during their Hong Kong talks in December, the 149 members of the World Trade Organization hammered out a scaled-down agreement on global commerce. But many Christian and civil society groups fighting for trade justice predicted that the deal will do little to help the world’s poor. “Those talks might not have crashed as spectacularly as those at Seattle and Cancun.
"It’s all grace,” my dear friend replied. For some reason, I was surprised at the simplicity and firmness of her answer. I’d asked how she was able to face the last stages of cancer with such peace, generosity and good humor. The complete absence of bitterness or resentment in her demeanor and words was striking.
In a culture that has made efficiency a moral requirement and credit-card purchasing a way of life, delays are frustrating. Instant messaging, fast food meals and express deliveries reinforce a sense that waiting for almost anything is a waste of our time and a poor use of our gifts and resources.
I had told another visitor to the monastery that the monks had begun 1 Corinthians, in case she wanted an opportunity to hear the letter read aloud. She had written a doctoral thesis and a book on the passage—a process that had engaged her for more than ten years. She knew Paul’s words in Greek, in German and in many English translations. But as she listened in the abbey church, something caught her attention that she had never noticed before. It was a revelation that left her gasping for breath.