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An Advent Lesson on Waiting

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[Editors' note: This Advent season, we will be running a series of reflections on the Bread Blog from members of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. The lectionary readings for this post are Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10. Keep reading the Bread Blog for more Advent reflections each day.] 

Promises, promises. Most people in our United States, indeed even more people throughout the developing world, stake survival on the possibility that their lives will improve. For some, existence is reliant on the spirit within. The spirit of Christmas can inspire that hope, anticipation, and love.

The biblical passages that relate to today should cause us to rejoice in the majesty of God, to believe in miracles, and to have faith in Jesus. At the same time, James cautions patience. My heart turns to my friend Lynne who will be imprisoned for 10 years. Is it possible that even she can come to believe that there is purpose in her suffering and promise in her anticipation of life beyond this one? Or, more profound, is it possible that she will find miracles in the difficult life that she now knows? Isaiah predicts miracles—most remarkable, the birth of Jesus. He promises “sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

In the passage from Psalm 146, we are encouraged to believe in these miracles predicted by Isaiah: “Happy are those whose help, … hope … faith (are) in the Lord my God.” Jesus will set the prisoners free, open the eyes of the blind, lift up those who are bowed down, watch over the sojourners, uphold the widow and the fatherless. These are the real gifts of Christmas.

But we Americans, who are married to possessions, captive of comforts, and lacking in patience, are strained to believe. As I examine the life of Lynne, I know that she believes her calling -- to serve as a defense lawyer of the downtrodden -- is finished. She has never been a patient person. So for Lynne, it is none of the material privileges that she is missing or longing for -- it is to achieve justice for “the least of us.” I have trouble imagining her ability to translate her incarceration as a Christmas gift.

Yet, her spirit may move her to exactly that. In the James passage, we learn that patience is in the waiting. We must always be preparing. James’s prophesies of foresight and insight might be the Christmas gifts we are all hoping for. He says, “… you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

Prayer (by Martin Luther King Jr.): Though we choose to walk in the footsteps of the condemned, we refuse to relinquish hope. Though we accept to accompany the ones who suffer, we do not yield to despair. Though we offer to help shoulder the burden of those rejected and excluded, we are not vanquished by death. Though we stand in solidarity and witness the persecution of the innocent, we are not resigned to apathy. Though we wrestle with our own guilt and complicity in the injustice that surrounds us, we refuse to be paralyzed. Though we walk in the valley of the shadow of death, we shall not fear for with you is found forgiveness and peace. Heal us with your forgiveness, calm us with your peace, inspire us with your love. Amen.

Beth DuMez is a member at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Visit their website at www.nyapc.org.


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