It was all very clear at first — the unmistakable experience of Presence — the angel, the message and the path. The obstacles were overshadowed with the Grace that made walking into the night seem like simply the price to be paid for living from the inside out.
It’s the joy of engagement, the passion of the inspiration to give your life to defend freedom, the pursuit of peace through the Corps, the inspiration that leads to the first words of the book, the delight in the new position that is just joy shrouded with difference-making. Such is the stuff of invitation, where we each discover the unmistakable desire that defines the decisions. For each of our lives, like the couple who headed to Bethlehem, there is something so definitive that we set ourselves on a journey with the courage of the indomitable and the heart of love.
The real work, though — the real decision — the one that requires a refuse to despair, a release of the desire to control and the commitment to walking a path of real joy…happens from the depth of night. This joy, grounded in the gift given in the first days of the fervent “yes” becomes unlike the Hallmark commercial and more like the pathway of those who have walked the same pathway on the way to their own Bethlehem — confident in the promise given by God that in the manger, where your presence has been counted as one who believes, the manger holds the miracle…but it requires the first step.
The real work of Advent is not in the whimsical days of putting up the sparkling lights or rushing through the Thanksgiving dishes to see if Black Friday really holds the deal. The real work of Advent is not in the ornaments, the gifts wrapped and ready to be ripped or the Morman Tabernacle Choir hitting the historical notes that enliven the thirst for beauty. The real work of Advent is not checking the “Giving Tree” off the list of things to do so that our abundance can yield some relief to another’s scarcity. No…the real work of Advent happens deep in the night — when, on the road to Bethlehem, while “not a creature is stirring, not event a mouse” — we find ourselves gripped with the doubt of our earlier certitude.
This is where Advent begins — Emmanuel “God with us” — in those gripping moments when I recall again the truth that I live, “my mind is a dangerous neightborhood that no one should go into alone…especially at night.” When, in the middle of night — in the middle of things — when things are messy and unclear and the strategic plan objectives have not been met and the young love has greyed into an empty nest and the sparkling lights have become dulled with disillusionment. This, is where Advent happens. It’s the moment that you get back on the donkey because you believe — even in what you cannot see or feel. It is to face into the unknown Bethlehem and refuse to let cynicism, fake news and fear be the stars that guide your action. Advent happens when we turn off the phone and light those candles and dispel the darkness. Advent happens when it’s messy — in the middle of things — when we are too far away from where we started and very far from where we are going. Then, in the middle of the darkness, as the road winds through one more hairpin turn that you think you just can’t do — and around the bend, through the darkness that leaves you wanting to quit and forget about the whole thing…..
You see the star. It hasn’t been there before — or has it.
Was it that you were looking down at the ground
and gripped by the black hole you refused to look up.
Was it that the clouds hid the piercing light
and so you have been gripped in the fog of your own dim hope
Was it that you refused to see that the light
has been the magnet leading you through the darkness
Or did it just appear
It’s Advent — in the middle of things
Look — your star has been waiting for you