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It’s been a tough week for world peace. Tensions between North and South Korea are severely strained after North Korea launched a deadly artillery attack last week.
The war in Afghanistan drags on as U.S. leaders ponder the duration of our presence there; a strategic arms pact with Russia appears to be on hold, at least for now; a new English-language Web magazine produced by Al Qaeda entices alienated American Muslims to “attack the enemy (America) with smaller but more frequent operations” that will “bleed the enemy by a thousand cuts;” a 19-year-old American-Somali man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was accused of trying to blow up a van full of explosives during a Portland, Ore., Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony; and we have yet to see the full impact on national security that the newly released WickiLeak documents will have.
Meanwhile, millions of us barreled past Black Friday, and then with grand élan, having taken a breather over the weekend, millions more enjoyed the convenience of shopping online for Cyber Monday. And somewhere in all this — oh yes, Sunday — the first day of Advent lie hidden in the corner of the church house, quiet as a mouse.
If we aren’t intentional, amidst all the crises of our world and the cries from retailers beckoning us to catch the next best buy, we will miss the true celebration around the manger. That’s what Advent is about: taking the time to prepare for Christ. Taken from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming, Advent is observed by many Christians in the West as a way of preparing for the celebration of Christ’s birth 2,000 years ago. Even churches that don’t formally observe Advent have different ways of anticipating the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
The time to do that is now, not Dec. 24. And that requires something most of us are short on: patience. We do not like waiting on Christ, nor preparing for him. We prefer him to catch up with us. The French philosopher and Christian mystic, Simone Weil, said, “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Expectant waiting takes place most often in the quiet, in the secret place of a heart yearning for more than the world can offer. It’s heard in the strained voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Some eight centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, when a foreign military superpower, Assyria, threatened tiny Judah’s national security, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed hope in the midst of despair. It may have only been a glimmer, but that was all the hope necessary to give words to his vision of a better day, a time when the nations would “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” In a day of fear and intimidation, distraction and disarray, dishonesty and corruption, Isaiah, waiting patiently, caught a glint of hope — eight centuries yet away. But he saw it. And he wouldn’t let it go.
Sometimes small glimmers of hope are all that is necessary to birth a new tomorrow, even when that tomorrow seems an eternity away.
Tempted to despair this Christmas season? Small wonder. It’s the way of our world; the world we know, the world of anxiety, anger, and ultimately annihilation. It’s only in looking away from it that we can gaze into another world, the world within the word — a strange and mysterious world where miracles happen, where a virgin gives birth to a savior, where good news announces freedom to captives, hope for the despondent, and light for those dwelling in darkness — the world you’ve longed for, where the songless choir is given the rhythm of joy by which it rejoices with Heaven and nature, singing: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”
It’s a world worth waiting for, and as we listen, ever so intently, we can almost see it, faintly, obscurely, dimly, but undeniably there — peeking over the morning horizon: a glimmer of hope. Do you see it?
Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. His email is email@example.com. David’s Web site is davidbwhitlock.com.