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The First Month Of The Church Year

The first month of the church year is spent in waiting, being attentive to God's coming. The invitation of Advent is to be ready, and the lectionary readings are like wake-up calls as day dawns in the motel of this world's night:
. . . stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near (Lk 21:28).
The problem is that we are not very attentive to this message from the heavenly reception desk. John says that God was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him (1:10-11). Luke was keenly aware that leaders in high places of government and religious circles don't answer the call (3:1-2). He also draws our attention to faithful persons like Joseph and Mary, and shows how their parental anxiety concerning the child Jesus causes even them to forget that his true home was "in (his) Father's house" rather than in Nazareth (2:49). Along with the crowds who gathered around John the Baptist, we may find ourselves asking, "What then should we do?" (Lk 3:10)
Whether we hear the wake-up call or not, we are all on a life journey of one kind or another. The lectionary readings give us spiritual guidance here, both for the inward journey of the heart, and for the outward journey in the world.
First, we need spiritual friends or directors who assist us to pay attention to God's call and coming because God shows up in ways we do not expect or recognize. Thus Mary seeks out the companionship of Elizabeth. Joseph is not at all sure of this unplanned pregnancy, nor of their plans for marriage. In the midst of being questioned, doubted, and possibly shunned, Mary discovers in Elizabeth a person who can both recognize and celebrate the presence and work of God within her (Lk 1:39-56).
Spiritual directors can also help us discern what spiritual disciplines can bring help and healing to our human tendency toward being "weighed down with dissipation (being fragmented, pulled in different directions by various and sundry voices) and drunkenness (our addictions and gluttony) and the worries of this life" (Lk 21:34).
Second, we need to enter the gospel narrative and listen closely to John the Baptist's message on readiness for Jesus' coming. He speaks about what to do with extra clothes, extra food, being satisfied with a fair wage, and exposes the lengths we go to in order to feed our addiction for more money (Lk 3:3-14). Here we are challenged with how we live into the outward journey among others in the world.
Then, like Joseph and Zechariah, shepherds and wise men, Mary and Elizabeth, tax collectors and soldiers, Advent will serve to open the eyes of our hearts to see God's presence and work among us. We will embrace and live the kingdom of God.
Wendy Miller Eastern Mennonite Seminary Harrisonburg, VA