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First Sunday of Advent 2010

2010 November 28
by Julie Clawson

Advent. From the Latin adventus meaning “coming,” this is the church’s remembering through expectant waiting of the coming of the Lord. The incarnation. God with us. Yet often the re-living of the waiting for the advent of the Lord becomes familiar. We know how the story ends. We’ve domesticated the audacity of the Nativity story. We’ve become so used to the babe in the manger, the herald angels singing, and the visiting magi that we forget that when God shows up it is generally in the most unexpected of ways. But that truth has been recurring in my life recently, so this Advent I’ve decided to focus my reflections on examining the unexpected ways God showed up in a story that has become almost too familiar for many of us.

I think Luke perhaps suspected as he crafted his narrative of the coming of the Lord this tendency towards complacency that plagues the faithful. It is easy to get used to our habits and rituals of worship. The most devout followers of God can easily reach the point where even if they do not necessarily substitute the act of worship for actual communion with the divine, they skirt fairly close. For when our acts of Eucharist and sacrifice are generally met with only the response of the devotion they inspire we can lose sight that they are not ends in themselves but serve the ultimate purpose of divine encounter. I have to wonder if such a forgetting is at play in Luke’s opening narrative, his telling of Zechariah’s story.

The text says Zechariah was a good man, very devote. He followed all the laws and served God faithfully. Yet when his turn came to offer prayers and incense to God in the holy place in the temple, he ended up being overwhelmed with fear when God actually showed up. Granted, if a messenger of the Lord appeared before me, I would be a little freaked out, but one might think that if one is in the midst of praying to God in the holy place where God was said to dwell it wouldn’t come as that much of a surprise when God makes his presence known. Yet there was Zechariah approaching the altar of the Lord and becoming terrified because there was actually an angel there.

Part of me wonders if all the tales of God showing up unexpectedly are more the stories of how people forgot to look for God’s coming in the expected places. But whatever the reason, the appearance is still unexpected. God showed up in the holy place – in the temple – for Zechariah, and it was terrifying. Was he just so used to experiencing God in one way that he couldn’t accept a new revelation? Had he stopped looking for God or seeing the everyday incarnations around him? Had he unconsciously turned his observance of the ritual into a thing to be worshiped in itself? His story doesn’t say. All we know was that for him the encounter was unexpected – in an overwhelming and terrifying sort of way.

His story makes me wonder if I am prepared to encounter God when God shows up. I rehearse the story of waiting for the advent, I seek the Lord in prayer, and I join in on worshiping God communally, but I don’t know if I have left any room for God in the daily rhythms of my devotion. Would I be terrified if God responded to my prayers or appeared in reply to my call of “O come, O come Emmanuel”? Am I prepared to let God into my rituals or open to letting God appear even in the holy places of my church? I don’t believe I am, nor that I will ever be. For that I find comfort in Luke opening his Gospel with the reminder that when God shows up it is always unexpected.

The advent of the Lord is a tale of God breaking into our world and demanding we pay attention. We may be so used to the tales of the coming in the Nativity that we forget to be mindful of these everyday unveilings. But God shows up no matter our complacency. God shows up unexpectedly.

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  1. November 28, 2010

    Superb opening reflection on advent julie. Thank you! Sometimes I think Z’s response is the best of all: silence. “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”

  2. December 11, 2015

    , but I think her general puosrpe is fantastic. I’ve been going through Beth Moore’s So Long Insecurity study with my sophomore girls’ small group, and finding that it aligns somewhat with Lioness. What has struck me the most in the past few weeks is Proverbs 31:25, speaking of a godly woman: She is clothed with strength and dignity, she can laugh at the days to come. I thought of you all, and meant to post about this a WHILE ago. I wonder how I would change, how we all would change, if we saw ourselves as being clothed by God with strength and dignity. Food for thought Anyways, to your questions!1. I love Panera Bread early in the morning. I have my own little table in a corner I sit at, and it is so refreshing! I also really enjoy my backyard (gotta love fresh air!) on a sunny day.2. Like I said, Panera is not a happening place at opening time. So it works perfectly with my schedule to get there first thing in the morning before I head to work. I also get my much needed coffee to get me through the rest of the day!3. Thanksgiving I guess my favorite thing is this cheesy potato corn flake thing my grandma always makes. I don’t know what it is but I can’t get enough!4. I’m for coffee all the time. However, I can be persuaded to drink hot tea or hot chocolate in the evenings. But always coffee in the morning.5. I’m headed to pinterest next!

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