From the Bishop: Advent 2019
This morning I had to push a solid coating of ice off the windshield of my truck before I could drive downtown. I have a pretty well-established routine for how that work will be accomplished on the mornings when there are snow and ice on my car. I’ll turn on the vehicle and crank up the defrost, and then pull out my scraper and start to work on the ice (pretty typical, I know!) But I usually do that for only a minute or two before I get annoyed that my window isn’t getting clean as fast as I’d like, and so having fully cleared only two softball-sized spots – one on each side of my windshield – I’ll jump into the truck and start on my way. It usually takes ten minutes or so before I can actually see out of my full windshield, and until then, I’ll be crouched over in the driver’s seat, peering through the little portholes I have cleared and which give just barely enough visibility to drive.
I can be an impatient guy. This is true when I examine the little things in my life (like how quickly I get frustrated chipping ice off my windshield) and when I examine some of the larger and more important aspects of my life, like how willing I am to take real time to listen to Annie when she is telling me about something hard in her experience, or how anxious I can get waiting for a parish church to fix some hairy problem. I am sure I am not alone in being occasionally and sometimes unhelpfully impatient. And it seems to me that this is a challenge that’s increasing as I get older, in part, I am sure because time itself seems more precious as I age.
So, I am a guy for whom the season of Advent is both challenging and critically important. The themes of this season that cluster around waiting, watching, praying and hoping are not disciplines that always come easily to me, and they are too often themes that I neglect in my life … even my life of faith.
Yet this is precisely the invitation of Advent. In this season, as we prepare both for the coming of the baby Jesus in our annual celebration of his nativity, and for the second coming of Christ as we look towards the end of days, the Holy One has a particular message for us. “Settle down,” Jesus seems to say, “and remember that my promises to you include taking on an easy yoke and granting you a peace that passes all understanding. Remember that simply being in deep relationship with people you love through your intentional presence and care-full listening is holy work indeed. Can you look up from your latest project and all the duties that you have imposed on yourself, and remember how Martha chose the better part? Can you be still, waiting and watching for me in this short and holy season?”
I know that I am impatient in part because it seems like the concerns of the day call for nothing less. The ills of society and the pressures on the Church are so great today that I feel a constant nudge to stay busy and focused on making a difference every day. But that orientation betrays an area where I still have lots of room to grow. Of course, there is ministry to do in this and every moment, but what I am remembering in this season is that real and powerful ministry exists alongside a quiet and watchful reliance on God. My obsession with needing to make a difference and worrying about whether I’m doing enough suggests that I’m forgetting that ultimately my hope – and the hope of the whole world – rests in God’s hands and the gift of God’s son for whom we wait. My impatience at this moment is a reminder that in the scale and scope of God’s time our journey through life is short and our contributions are always humble. Truly our lives are in God’s hands, and whatever we achieve in this world is by God’s grace alone.
The time has come to practice patience dear friends. Advent has arrived.
+ Bishop Barker