Keeping Watch: Advent, Week 3

By Brianna Lantz

Photo by Emily Thomas

Editor’s Note:

This year we’re welcoming advent with a series called Keeping Watch. As we read in Common Prayer, “God getting born in a barn reminds us that God shows up in the most forsaken corners of the earth.” The same holds true today. Many of the stories Nations tells take place in overlooked, unglamorous places. Yet that’s where God has chosen to reveal his kingdom. Every Friday leading up to Christmas, we’ll be posting a reflection about waiting, paying attention, and noticing glimpses of this new order. Join us in preparing to celebrate the incarnation—God with us! (Read previous Advent essays here and here.)

“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Make no mistake, 2017 has been one for the books. While the tenor of our polarity seems to increase by the day, Advent reflection begins to seem a little less sentimental and a lot more necessary. These recent days have been dominated by a never-ending news cycle of sexual assault allegations, policy debate, and humanitarian crises. And now, a series of historic wildfires are ravaging my home state of California. “The end times are near,” they say. “These are the birth pains Jesus spoke of,” they say. (Matthew 24:7-8)

I’m gazing out my window, watching smoke billow toward the ocean. I shut my eyes, take a breath. I open my eyes and see people helping people. I see ordinary folks opening their homes and giving their resources. I see firefighters standing on hell’s edge to defend us. And for a moment, I forget that earlier today we debated tax reform and net neutrality.

For a moment I don’t see the arbitrary dividing lines, because right now, they are burning away.  

I am beginning to think that is how good shows itself in the world—in quiet, ordinary places and faces. When we offer a bed to our displaced neighbor. When we cook a meal for the orphan and widow. When we cultivate safe spaces in which to proclaim “me too.” Simple yet profound gestures. After all that is how, in humility and meekness, Love itself came into this world: through a pregnant teen, a helpless baby, a dirty manger.

And so, in those moments when it seems the whole world is on fire, we remind ourselves of this simple truth: that God incarnate came into this world ever-so subtly. And that’s exactly where we find him now.

In the midst of the fires and disasters, dwelling with the brokenhearted and displaced, working through the hands of ordinary people.  

Where does that leave us, in this Advent season of waiting? We resist letting Jesus’ second coming become a reason to throw up our hands in resignation. We become proactive participants where he is already dwelling. It is active expectancy that compels us away from fear and complacency. We prepare the table to welcome both friend and stranger, because as Bonhoeffer reminds us, Christ is our neighbor. Christ is society’s “least of these.” Christ is the marginalized. He came in a lowly form, he spent his life with lowly people, and he departed in a lowly manner.

This Advent season, may we let the quiet truths of the incarnation slice through the noise and polarity that mark these days. May we recognize that Jesus is with the lowly because he was one of them. And may we do our best to stand there, too.