Photo by Wayne de Klerk on Unsplash
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.Isaiah 11:1-4
The road seen, then not seen, the hillsideDavid Whyte, from “Santiago”
hiding then revealing the way you should take,
the road dropping away from you as if leaving you
to walk on thin air, then catching you, holding you up,
when you thought you would fall,
and the way forward always in the end
the way that you followed, the way that carried you
into your future, that brought you to this place.
It’s the middle of the day, but the clouds have descended so close to the earth that it looks like dusk. I have never in my life seen fog so dense or sat so anxiously in the passenger seat of a car. My dad is taking the first leg of our drive back to Portland from L.A. and we’re somewhere north of Bakersfield. I sense the other cars around us, but I can’t see them and they can’t see us. At 17 I’m still a baby driver, and I ask my dad why he isn’t turning on his brights. He explains that while it might seem logical to shine the lights out to see as far as possible, the fog would simply engulf the beams of light and do nothing to extend our visibility, but the headlights should be enough to illuminate the road directly ahead. We only need to see what’s right in front of us.
Advent is our reminder that we live in a perpetual kind of fog. Sometimes it lifts from our lives temporarily, but mostly we live in a state of constant unknown. I read this passage from Isaiah 11, which we now assume connects to the coming of Jesus, and wonder if the first thought of those who heard or read these words when they were written was, “What the actual fuck?” The looming threat of Assyria was their fog and these words, though foreshadowing the ultimate clearing, were about as clarifying as high beams in the void.
Today we often treat those words as if all is good. “See, look! They said it right here that Jesus was coming!” (But was that really what Isaiah was writing about? I digress.) I mean, that’s good news and all, but pointing at that in the thick haze can be a waste of energy. The sometimes misty, sometimes dense shroudedness in which we live life is all too real.
Will this person love me or hurt me?
Will I have enough money to pay my bills?
Will my family be discriminated against?
Will they laugh and torment me for my relationships? My gender? My skin color? My beliefs?
Will I live to see another day or will my body succumb to its own fragility?
Will the earth survive the ways that we have inflicted torture upon it?
I don’t have the answers to these questions. I was taught from a young age that somehow shouting, “JESUS!” or, “HEAVEN!” really loudly, was supposed to resolve it all. But it doesn’t. In the daily unknown, in the Advent of whatever comes next, we don’t need to try to see so far ahead. We just need to find enough light to see what’s right in front of us.
Why? Because that’s what the Advent of the Messiah demonstrates. Jesus didn’t make a pompous entrance in a descending cloud, hop up on the cross, and yell, “Salvation, baby!” Instead, he shone just enough light into the lives of people in poverty, with chronic medical and mental illnesses, those living on the margins of society, to say this matters. That you are fed, that you are clothed, that you are tended to, that you are seen and heard, that you are accepted exactly as you are – these things matter so incredibly much.
It’s nearly 20 years later and I’m driving; my two school-aged kids are buckled in the backseat. The fog is thick; I grip the steering wheel and flick on the lowbeams, and Dad’s explanation returns to me. I used to be so worried about the road I could not see up ahead, that I failed to see what was right in front of me. The meaning of Advent, I was convinced, was in the final arrival at a destination; I was wrong. The gift of Advent is in the acknowledgment of exactly where we are. It is in the intentional meaning-making of what’s directly before us. That we are continually arriving at the place we were always meant to be.
Advent– Amy E.
I arrived in the
place I already was and
Love was there waiting
Take a breath. Look around you. What people, tasks, feelings, thoughts are in the range of your headlights? How can you invite advent into those spaces? Acknowledge the things you cannot see, and focus on the ground at your feet.
Follow along with our 2019 Advent devotional series here and read our introduction post here. You can also subscribe for a weekly digest of all our posts on the right-hand sidebar.