Adventing: Waiting and Acting in Hope
“In the beginning, God created…” begins the narrative that shapes our lives. And now, at Advent, we wait expectantly for something new to happen, the birth and return of creation’s Savior.
I recall another birth that that took my breath away.
Don’t Give Up on Me
While still in her mother’s womb, our oldest daughter’s umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck, causing her pulse to slow. Our obstetrician was watching a monitor closely and reporting to us her “vitals.” They kept going down, as if she was diving into lifelessness. Suddenly, there was only one move to make, and our obstetrician called it.
Within a few minutes I was looking into my wife’s open womb, and at the waxy fetus that lay inside her. Our daughter was purple and motionless. Still as she was, the surgical nurse carried her to a nearby table. I asked what was happening, but no one seemed to notice. Twenty seconds passed, and then sixty. Not a sound.
The medical team formed a human wall around our daughter and began to rub the waxy coating from her purple skin, as if to rub life into her. My wife looked up at me quizzically from where she lay, while her abdomen was being sutured back together. She tried to lift up her head, hearing nothing and seeing nothing, as a short curtain blocked her view from our little one. The seconds ticked. Not a breath.
I held her hand and assured her the medical team was doing everything they could, everything that they had been trained to do in moments like these. I prayed like I’ve never prayed before, waiting for life, begging for it.
And then we heard the cry, a piercing sound like shattering glass with a force of its own, as if it was intended to be heard beyond that room and by every inch of the universe. “I am alive! Hear my voice! Don’t give up on me!”
And then we cried too.
Pushing Back the Darkness
When I reflect on our daughter’s birth, as traumatic as it was for us, I’m aware of the countless other mothers and fathers who have waited throughout history to hear the first cry of their children. Those months before birth and, especially, the days leading up to it, involved what I call an “Advent type” of waiting.
It is not the type where you are killing time, like when you’re in line at the pharmacy and you decide to check your emails. And it is not a distracted type, like when your flight has been delayed and your departure gate is so noisy you can’t even think, much less read. No, it is a life and death sort of waiting, a waiting with creation in the balance where all your hopes are pinned on the new life that is yet to be.
Basking in the Light
In John’s Gospel, the writer begins by describing the co-eternal Christ, who is also the “light of all people.” John writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Then, quite quickly, he gives us a clue as to how people become children of the light: they are “born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God.”
The reader is also given an image of light pushing back the darkness until it pervades all of creation, one child of God at a time, one act of faithfulness at a time: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
It is easy to imagine that all of creation eventually gets loved back into wholeness as the light shines on more and more people. If Genesis describes how God creates the cosmos, John’s Gospel describes how God gives birth to his spiritual children through Christ: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
Which brings us to your and my role of midwifing that grace, and bringing new life to others.
Fulfilling My Promise
In my last article [What the Church can Learn from Costco and Amazon: Continuous Improvement], after focusing on Gil Rendle’s assertions about the “work of improvement,” I promised to write about the “work of creation,” to which the church is simultaneously called. Well, as it turns out, I may have already done so, at least to some extent.
If you think about it, the effort of bringing a child into the world poses many of the same dynamics as giving birth to fresh expressions of church. Both involve doing something you have never done before. Both involve a great investment of time and energy. And both hold life and death in the balance.
Just as no one comes into this world knowing how to be a good parent, so connecting with those whom Rendle calls “unaffiliated” through new expressions of church may seem just as mysterious. So, the first thing that is needed is faith that we will learn as we go.
As Rendle would say, “you begin with describing a preferred future that is based on what you do not yet know how to do—and work backwards from there.” In the case of our presbytery, we might say, “We are going to invest in new expressions of church so increasing numbers of ‘unaffiliated’ people will meet Jesus and find new life in him.”
This work is less familiar and feels a whole lot riskier than the work of improvement, but if we are called to fill the world with God’s light, one heart and social system at a time, it is what faithfulness requires us to do.
Voices Crying Out from the Dark
As I sit with my memories of our daughter’s birth, and how perilous those moments felt, I can’t help but wonder about the millions of people in this world, and thousands within the bounds of our presbytery, who have yet to be awakened to life in Christ. I wonder what it will take to rub them awake even as a surgical nurse once rubbed our daughter awake. I believe we are called to find out.
“And then we heard the cry, a piercing sound like shattering glass with a force of its own, as if it was intended to be heard beyond that room and by every inch of the universe. ‘I am alive! Hear my voice! Don’t give up on me!’”
“Don’t worry, dear child of God. We are right here.”