Our Advent yearning is not for Christ to come: he already has come in history. We long for our world to be saturated with the gospel, permeated with Christ’s presence, and our hearts to become more compassionate. His unpredictability then directs us to embrace events that may disrupt our routines.
If we dread the season which alerts us to All We Haven’t Done for Christmas, we’re missing wonder unfolding before our eyes. The four weeks scroll through the magnificent history of human hope, and we concentrate on catalogues. Or we clip recipes, watch the sales, and agonize over what to get Aunt Lucy. Advent asks us to take a deliberate stand that says, “Over centuries, people yearned for Christ’s coming, so I won’t take it for granted. I’ll never let his incarnation be rubbed away by busy-ness.”
Some surprises that should astound us: peoples’ kind efforts to help us, even when they are busy or tired themselves, the discovery of many options in a situation that seemed dead-ended, a sympathetic friend in a wildly dysfunctional office, a window of time in a packed schedule, a flash of beauty, a check in the mail, or a stimulating conversation in an otherwise empty day, someone’s contribution of last night’s leftovers the day we forgot to bring lunch to work. Hunting for the surprises tucked into each day eventually builds a perennial hope, a stubborn refusal to believe that God brings us anything but ultimate joy. If we know that the story ends happily, why waste time on worry?
Poet Mary Oliver in “The Kingfisher” qualifies that small surprises don’t mean unmitigated bliss, but make fine stepping stones through the ordinary:
–so long as you don’t mind
a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life
that doesn’t have its splash of happiness?
What if Advent isn’t an exhausting list of duties, but a marvelous scavenger hunt where we keep discovering tantalizing clues of a good master? What if God shares our delicious delight and high expectation in planning a surprise for a dear friend or child? What if God’s coming is like that of someone deeply loved, for whom it is sheer joy to bake, clean, shop and decorate? What if all the preparation time vanishes as nothing to the enormous relief of seeing and holding that loved one? “What ifs?” attune us to surprising promises—what Advent is all about.