Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A picture of Advent.

“It is said that the door to the stable where the Christ-child has been born is very low – and only those who kneel find access.”
-Celtic Daily Prayer

My home is in the most convenient of places, within walking distance of a grocery store, theatre, an astonishing amount of cafes, restaurants, ice cream joints, banks, bakeries, and pizza parlors. I don’t collect records, but if I did, there is a place a couple blocks from my house that would constantly be tugging me to spend hours there (Thank you Amish roots for my imbedded reluctance towards technology!). Two blocks from my house is a library. And nearby is a post office. Oh, and there are like five dry cleaning businesses. And apart from the 2 Starbucks’, the majority of these are locally owned businesses. Along with the many businesses, there are tons of religious institutions. From a Jewish Community center right across the street from my house, to dozens of churches and synagogues within a nice stroll from my temporary home.

As my host and new friend, Jill, has recently explained, the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenue is the “center of the universe”, at least for her. And I, too, find myself becoming more and more comfortable with this little nook in Pittsburgh. It’s how I explain where I live. Sometimes I’ll use it as a place to meet up. I’m even tempted to theorize about how I’ve become oriented to life here in Pittsburgh through and in relation to this hub of society. That theory will take some time, so for now I’ll just explain something I’ve been noticing.

My walk to work, church, and any of the above mentioned places brings me past a couple bus stops. But there is one in particular that is usually heavily populated. And now that winter has arrived with its unpleasant winds and lazy grey colors, these bus stops are full of people bundled up, often with eyes squinting and arms crossed furiously.

Unlike these folks, I don’t stop and wait with the others. Instead, I try to mingle through the pack and awkwardly sneak with little grace through the people and past the bus stop. Sometimes, I bump shoulders with a stranger. I mumble a “my bad” and make eye contact for just long enough to say, “I’m sorry”, with my eyes. Sometimes passing through the bus stop is an awkward experience where I try to offer a friendly smile and am met with grunts and apathetic responses. And understandably, these people are waiting in the cold.

Other times, however, as I emerge from the crowded bus stop at four in the afternoon, I am fighting back a huge smile because the freezing people are laughing together. I don’t know them, but the two older women sitting on the bench seem awesome. These people are warmer somehow than the others. And understandably, these people are laughing.

I like reminders. Maybe that explains my iCal that’s terribly detailed, even if it’s full of things that don’t deserve a spot on there. Like “nap” or “pick nose”. Just kidding. But it’s almost that bad. But one of the reasons I put everything on my calendar is because I like being reminded.

It’s good to be reminded. And maybe it’s because my mother is a “scrapbooker” (picture my whole family posing for Kodak moments during any and every possible situation), but I think pictures can help us remember. And the bus stop offers a couple pictures of waiting… those who are suffering in the cold and those who are laughing in spite of it. Maybe it matters how we wait. Maybe we can learn from these pictures of the waiting people.

Another picture of waiting is Advent – the time before Christmas when the Church is encouraged to prepare for the birth of Jesus. And our Celtic Daily Prayer book contains a beautiful evening blessing that speaks from within this season:
God of the watching ones,
give us your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us your good word for our souls.

If Advent is a time for waiting and if it matters how we wait then what should the church look like during this season? How should Christians get ready for Christmas? What words, pictures, images, ideas, and actions should be a part of this season?

What is a picture of Advent?

To steal another nugget of goodness from the prayer book – this Advent season “our thoughts are focused not just on letters, cards and presents, but on repentance, humbling and interior ‘housecleaning’.” Housecleaning? Wait! That is another picture that can help us remember… Every morning, WCD participants pray this:
One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

A temple. A house. These buildings are places where God is. Where the creator of the universe comes and rests. A place where the Divine makes his home. A place where the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob comes, lives, and works. God has a home.

And we are called to do housecleaning. Where is that house? Does that mean we have to go clean the church pews or help clean the flannel graphs in the Sunday school rooms? I’m learning that we are the house of God. We are the space where God dwells. I think our bodies are the buildings for God. What a concept. What a picture!

Advent is a season of waiting and preparation. And in light of the monastic readings that the WCD community has been going through, the waiting for Jesus ought to involve attentiveness and watchfulness. We ought to humbly examine ourselves, for we are the places in which God dwells.

I’d like to imagine that the church is a bus stop that many are forced to walk through and awkwardly mingle past. And so the question comes, what will these people see? What picture will they see?

“It is said that the door to the stable where the Christ-child has been born is very low – and only those who kneel find access.”

May we kneel low through an “interior housecleaning” and be a picture of Advent.