Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Two weeks before my body succumbed to seizures in early September, an episode that resulted in the diagnosis of a brain tumor, I lay on my living room floor crying as I listened to “God Help Us” by the Miserable Offenders. I studied the new arrangements of traditional hymns and the original pieces, all dealing with the crux of our faith, the business of living and of dying, the need to pay attention to our lives, the welcome held out for the sinner. Listening, I wondered how we ever forgot how fragile life is and how immanent our encounter with God.
Not bad thoughts for Advent.
By October, after a craniotomy to remove most of the tumor, these thoughts were more constant than I wished. My brain tumor was diagnosed as a grade 4, extremely aggressive glioblastoma and the projections for the length of life dismal. I’ve spent much of the Fall crying. Crying for my kids (8 and 12), crying for Bill, crying for myself. I’ve had grace-filled moments, prayer relief, moments of being carried by other people’s love and then those bone chilling, fear-filled moments when I am clinging by my fingernails to this familiar life.
It’s still my intention to die with my eyes open and my spirit willing, whenever that moment comes. I will honestly try to do that. But, God, it’s much harder than I had imagined.
So what is it that is offered us in this season of preparation? If not security and permanence, what does God promise and what does God ask?
Patience, according to James, and a willingness to listen to the prophets. What do the prophets say? It seems that over and over again the prophets ask us to acknowledge the widow and orphan, to do justice, to stop making animal sacrifices and instead offer up those things that we substitute for God- wealth, immortality, power.
And, always, there’s the Judge waiting at the doors. Coming. Like the thief in the night. Coming. Like the bridegroom who is awaited. Coming.
Do our hearts rise? Or do they cry out, “Not yet!” Or “Oh Lord, this is for real.”
It’s for real. It is coming soon. In my case, maybe sooner than I would like.
This Advent, as we light the candles in the dark and sing for Emmanuel, let’s be even more intentional than usual in clearing the commercial Christmas assault from our minds and hearts. Whatever God is calling us to has little to do with shopping and driving ourselves into a frenzy creating the “perfect” holiday. We need to honor the silence and the dark, to remember our stories, to teach the youth in our lives what we believe matters. We need to recall, to intuit, to dream the life we’re called to and then make a plan that allows us to strip down enough to have it. In the course of that, of course, we need to give thanks for all that we are and for those traveling in our circles and beyond.