One of my favorite Advent readings is Henri Nouwen's piece, "Waiting for God" found in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas for November 28. It's taken from "A Spirituality of Waiting" in The Weavings Reader, based on a sermon by Nouwen. So it was lovely to be able to turn to it this morning on this first Sunday of Advent. I invite you to read it in one of those places, if you can, and come back. I'll wait.
Nouwen captures our issues with waiting: the fear and frustration that usually infuse our waiting, and he looks at the Advent heroes of waiting: Zechariah, Anna, Elizabeth and Mary, whose waiting was done securely in the promises from God in their lives. They wait actively, present and alive to the moment. They wait in hope.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Living in faithful hope is hard. I've been writing songs about waiting. I am happy to celebrate that I did use the word hope in my new anthem, Waiting. And if you wait until the fourth Sunday of Advent, I will record my church choir doing the premiere of that piece and will post it here.
It is the same watchful expectancy that Matthew 24: 42 calls us to. This morning we sang this hymn text to go with the Matthew text:
Keep alert, be always ready,
God's time approaches sure and steady,
God's strength will keep your heart from blame.
Clouds, the Spirit's light concealing,
disperse, God's purest light revealing;
creation will its Sovereign name.
Dry branches burst forth green,
God's advent signs are seen:
Christ's judgment won,
God's will be done;
God's new dominion thus begun.
New Century Hymnal #112
with this tune.
"God's will be done?" One of the things I've done in the last few months while waiting in the search and call process is to think about Plan B options. I've called it thinking outside the box. But since I found this wonderful piece on God's Call to Plan B, let's explore the idea of waiting in hope as living in Plan B.
The Bible is full of plan B stories. Joseph who had so many aborted plans in his life gives us this message. He tells his terrified brothers, "You meant to do harm but God meant to bring good out of it by preserving the lives of others . . ." You may want to stop now and read the whole story again. (Genesis 50:18-21.) All of life is plan B. …
At this time of year, Mary and Elizabeth are our models. What a plan B they both lived. Luke 1:26-56. Are there some clues for my life? Mary spent time quiet and alone to hear God. Obedient to what she heard she hurried to check it out with a trusted friend. She and Elizabeth apparently shared a vision of what could be. Wondering what God might be doing? Could they really be part of the plan? You can almost feel their joy and excitement as you read the story. Maybe they thought about Hannah. Her song was similar to Mary's. (I Samuel 1:26-2:10). Certainly there were many times in their lives that they had cause to think that God had got it all wrong.
What does it take to live abundantly in plan B?
Waiting in hope, living in hope, requires faith and understanding that God keeps promises. As God calls us, God will sustain us. We need to be present to God's continued call and presence. What does the Lord require of you today? (Still Micah 6: 8?)
This is a good time, to follow Mary's example , and look for community and friends to wait with you as you wait on God's call. Online this weekend, I found two great website resources and communities that I'd like to share with you:
1) Lumunos is the successor to Faith at Work and has a wonderful set of resources on God's call in our lives, including the full piece on Plan B, mentioned above.
2) The Uncluttered Heart provides a daily Advent reflection and is also a book, and provides an option for an online Advent retreat. I found this site because The Upper Room originally published Nouwen's piece on waiting and they also published The Uncluttered Heart by Beth Richardson.
How is God calling you? What is God's promise for you in that call? How do you sustain your hope and faith? If your faith and hope are in tatters, perhaps you can trust God to mend it for you, as poet, Emily Dickinson, who wrestled with faith and doubt wrote:
To mend each tattered Faith
There is a needle fair
Though no appearance indicate –
'Tis threaded in the Air --
And though it do not wear
As if it never Tore
'Tis very comfortable indeed
And spacious as before --
For Advent, I'm planning on reading through more of Dickinson's poetry in a reflective way with the help of this book: Mending a Tattered Faith by Susan VanZanten. Let me know if you can join me. Meanwhile, welcome to Advent, where we learn again the lessons we need about waiting and hope and about being present and ready to hear God's call, in whatever guise it comes.