I wake up much earlier than I want to on a chilly Tuesday morning, swiping to the left to dismiss my alarm and thus begin my morning routine. I grumble as I trip over our suitcase, still full from a long holiday weekend spent eating copious amounts of leftovers and playing games with family, on my way to the bathroom. Startling myself with the flip of the light switch, I brush away my morning breath and forget to brush my hair again, leaving it in the messy bun from the night before. My phone parrots the latest headlines, stopping me in my tracks, adding to the seemingly endless streak of dizzying chaos and rampant heartache. The earth is still on fire, and now, we are using tear gas to deter half naked brown babies from crossing an imaginary line separating the comfortable and innocent from those who we’ve been assured are conniving and criminal. I squint, cynicism scalding like acid in the throat, struggling to make sense of what I cannot unsee during this, the week we were apparently giving thanks for all the blessings and prosperity we’ve stolen and hoarded for ourselves. It is late in the afternoon when I begin to wonder where in all this broken world I can lay my grief down and breathe for just a moment.
It reaches the surface of my attention that I can’t remember the last time I heard God—the last time I heard whispers of the sacred and divine above the vitriol and roar of the headlines. My questions feel unanswered, and I feel undone. Am I going the right way? Where are you to be found in the midst of all this howling hurt?
In the evening, at house church, we talk about the psychological effects of constantly being exposed to tragedy. Monica, an elder who makes her living as a therapist, says that mental health professionals are doing more grief counseling than ever.
The timeline in my Bible reminds me that there were four hundred years between the last verse of Malachi and the first verse of Matthew.
Four hundred years of silence, four hundred years of God’s people wondering if they were going the right way, four hundred years of having only a handful of puzzle pieces they had inherited to serve as evidence of God’s goodness and kindness towards them. Luke chapter two tells of a man named Simeon, who was “righteous and devout” and earnestly waiting for God to comfort the people of Israel. God had promised him that he would see the Messiah before he died.
Then, a thrill of hope—the God they had only ever heard about in the stories of their ancestors arrived on the earth in flesh flooded with melanin. The Prince of Peace, born to an unwed teenage mother who would eventually become a refugee after violence erupts in her home country.
He shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.
A favorite author of mine writes, “if Christmas is for the joy, Advent is for the longing.” Growing up, I never really understood why so many Christians I knew talked about how they couldn’t wait for Jesus to come. I had been freaked out one too many times by best selling apocalyptic books and messages about the war that would end the world. As a slightly more level headed and educated adult, the anticipation of Jesus setting all things right is a kind of longing I grow more and more intimately familiar each year. Some days, the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other feels impossible. What is daily bread when daily, my neighbors are being shot in the street? What fresh mercy is it that keeps waking us up to face the world all over again?
I wonder, could it be that all of heaven is waiting with bated breath for the Kingdom of God to be unleashed like wildfire in the hearts of the people of God? Could it be that the next move is actually ours to make?
Exodus chapter fourteen tells of the Israelites, newly free from slavery but being hunted down by those who had held them captive for more than ten generations. At a moment’s notice, they find themselves trapped—their backs against the Red Sea, and Pharaoh’s armies within their line of sight. All of the sudden, their very lives hung in the balance of liminal space. They cannot go back, and going forward seems impossible. In his panic, Moses cries out to God. Verse fifteen records God’s response. Why cry out to me? Talk to the people. Tell them to get moving.
Faith is the labor of liminal space, the evidence of unrelenting hope that the next step will become illuminated by our willingness to dare to imagine what could be in the face of what is, the now and the not yet. As one activist put it, we cannot fight for what we cannot imagine.
The Israelites had tasted freedom, experienced the miraculous provision of God on their behalf, so in faith, they put one foot in front of the other.
Perhaps it is our turn. Perhaps it is past time.
We must dare to imagine an America without gun violence, an America without racism, an America where our neighbors don’t have to choose between paying for heat and paying for their child’s doctor visit, an America where LGBT youth are loved and safe and choose to live instead of taking their own lives at three times the rate of straight teens, an America where women’s bodies and stories are protected and elevated, an America where prisons don’t turn a profit on every body that they put in an iron cage, an America where believers are known for our love instead of our vitriolic rivalries and hunger for power.
Sisters, brothers, Bride of Christ, we cannot afford to wait. We cannot simply resign from our calling, believing that the world is beyond repair. All of creation is waiting for us.
And we have not been left alone.
When Christ returned to the right hand of God, he promised that another would come. The God of the universe was so desperate to capture our most intimate attention that he didn’t simply stop at sending Emmanuel, God with us—he breathed on us the Holy Spirit, God inside of us. We are not alone, and the help will not run out. He gives us the Spirit without measure.
We are chosen, and we are chosen for each other. We are blessed, and we are blessed for each other. We are broken, and we are broken for each other. We are poured out, and we are poured out for each other until the world is dripping with the holiness of an unrelenting, reckless love.
I long to see this generation of believers rise up and walk in their identity as children of God with power and love and sound mind. Truthfully, I don't believe that Jesus would ask us to pray your kingdom come, your will be done if he wasn't willing to unleash his kingdom here. But it must start in our own hearts, as our ideas about power and justice and success and righteousness give way to make room for an upside down kingdom that flings the doors wide open to welcome the downtrodden and the lowly.
I still believe that it can happen—I believe that it will happen, because his words don't return void. We're invited to play a part in the redemption. It might not look like what we think it should. But oh, to fall in wild love with a God who isn't bound by our expectations.
It might show up looking like broken bread, like vulnerability, like flickering candles, like singing hymns, like moments too holy for our iPhones to capture.
It might even show up looking like a baby.