Advent is about to dawn, and when it does it leads us into quietness and expectation.
Basically, Advent has one message in two parts. (1) A savior is coming. And (2) it’s not you. That is why the images and language of the season seem passive and weak. We are asked to stand down, to lay aside our puny powers and wait. Only then can the promise be fulfilled. That doesn’t sit right with our fiery need to put the world to rights–right now! So much is wrong with our world, so much needs to be cleansed and renewed, but we don’t need well-intentioned people who believe they can change the world.
The figures that loom large in the Advent story, John the Baptist, Mary, Jesus, are all divinely powerful and deeply humble. They all know that great power comes from the small place of humility. Do you think John the Baptist believed he could change the world? Not on your life. When people asked John if he were the messiah, he said he wasn’t worthy to untie the messiah’s sneakers. Do you think Mary thought her holy surrender would change the world? Hardly. All she ever said was, “Let it be with me according to your will.” Do you think Jesus thought he could change the world? He expressly did not. Against his disciples’ big plans to bring in the kingdom Jesus insisted over and over that God’s way of effecting change meant that he must die, if that is what it took to live a life of perfect love. That act of self-offering would be the catalyst for God’s plan of redemption. Not his.
We have so much work to do in this world, the work of humble offering. That is how God will change the world. These days of waiting, watching steadfastly for the Light, are a good reminder that our job is to be faithful–not successful. We are commanded to do the work of self-giving love, the task of reconciliation, the striving for justice, the struggle for peace. But we are not responsible for the outcome of any of it.
Reinhold Neibuhr said it perfectly.
Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate
context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we must be saved by love.