It is Advent and so much needs to change. So much needs to be done, so many people need to be protected, so many who have given up on life need to hope again. Those who care for the vulnerable and powerless in our world are asking what urgently needs to be done right now.
I think the answer is to pray and do something small.
The Advent ethos is uniquely tiny. To be exact, it is the size of a grain of sand. Which is how large a human egg is—one of the largest cells in the human body, actually, sixteen times larger than a sperm cell. So: a grain of sand, plus one sixteenth of a grain of sand. That is the scale of Advent.
We put our hope in tiny things because, time after time, this is where God places the greatest power. When we face daunting problems in our own personal lives or overwhelming challenges in our world, we often feel there is nothing we can do. The conflict is too great, the problems are too complicated, the forces pushing against us are too powerful. This mindset leads to cynicism or despair. Or anger. I see a lot of anger these days, anger that is not righteous, held under the purifying sway of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:26), but anger with nowhere to go and nothing to do because it has no referent outside itself.
That is why Advent calls us to pray and do something small. Without prayer we have no referent outside ourselves so that when we come to the end of our own puny powers—which always eventually happens—we have nowhere to turn and no basis for hope. But when we pray we know that God is at work in the world and we are merely divine instruments. It doesn’t all depend on us. We do not have to change the world, thank God. We have only to be faithful in the small things that God places right in front of us on the path we walk this day. There are some few people who are called to launch national movements and scale up to massive size. I am sure I am not one of those people, and so I am thankful for Advent, a grain of sand and one sixteenth of a grain of sand. Mother Teresa said it so well. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
I am certain that today there will be someone in need, someone I can help if only by listening or smiling or holding a hand until things seem a little more manageable. I know there will be people to love. There will be sacrifices I can make. There will be moments when I don’t know what to do that would make any difference, and then I can simply breathe a little prayer and do something, anything that seems at least halfway gracious or compassionate or slightly funny under the circumstances.
That is the Advent ethos. Pray and do something small. Today.