It is fitting that the scriptural lessons at the beginning of Advent are about gloom and doom. Prophecies about the need for change usually fall at this time of year as a damper to festive spirits preparing for Christmas traditions. But as I write this for the second week in Advent 2020, the numbers of COVID-19 cases increase and the number of related deaths is climbing - higher than any of us dared to believe possible a few short months ago. We were warned. And yet, in our wildest imaginations, we could not comprehend. And suddenly, those prophetic words ring truer than ever.
Advent 2020 Backdrop
We are isolated in our homes - again. We are separated from loved ones during the time of year when we are usually together. And we wonder how we got to this place. Fingers point in different directions trying to place blame on all number of leaders. There are cries of “if only!” that echo through the airwaves. And through those same airwaves, we connect as best we safely can as we find a reluctant substitute for in-person gatherings. These are life and death issues.
Meanwhile, front line workers are exhausted. Nurses are in short supply. Ventilators are rationed following serious ethical considerations. ICU beds are nearly full.
Healthcare professionals who work with older adults are raising alarms about the effects of the separation of residents from loved ones. We can see the diminished abilities of older adults who are lonely as their appetites decrease and the daily social interactions remain limited.
Additionally, we feel the frustrations of those quarantined with family. We live in homes that were not designed for various generations to live and learn and work and play alongside each other, 24/7. Individuals have to simultaneously fulfill the expectations of being a partner/husband/wife, parent, housekeeper, manager, co-worker, teacher, nurse, procurement specialist, and peacekeeper. And we know that the rates of domestic violence climb. There are instances of violence increase amongst those who are related. Those who usually keep an eye on the children’s safety - teachers and school nurses - are now only as good as the Internet connection’s stability. And suicide prevention commercials and support services plead for us to look out for each other.
Considering all of this, we wonder, where is God? Where can we see the presence of the Christ-light in the world? Is there hope? And how long must we wait?
The names that we use to identify this sacred center of our lives is important. We know from the prophet Isaiah that the promised one will be called Emmanuel, which means, as we hear in the second verse of Toda la Tiera, God With Us.
All Earth is Waiting to See the Promised One
Thus says the prophet to those of Israel:
'A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel,'
one whose name is 'God with us' our Saviour shall be;
with him hope will blossom once more within our hearts.
Waiting and Watching
We are in the season of Advent when we are acutely aware of the spiritual practice of waiting and watching. What are we waiting for? What are we expecting? What do we really need right now? Our waiting and expectations may be different from those in the days of the prophets of the Hebrew texts, and yet they are similar. We want a sense of safety and yearn for “normal.” We want peace and connection.
And the prophet’s words echo through the thousands of years since these words were spoken, and we hear them anew - that God With Us is that hope that will fulfill our deepest needs.
God With Us
We don’t need a divine presence that is out there somewhere beyond the confines of our isolation. We don’t need an ultimate source of power that is distant and remote. We need to be reminded in this season that God With Us is revealed to us in the most vulnerable body of an infant born in the most unlikely place. And if Emmanuel can come to earthborn and place in a manger surrounded by livestock, then surely, God is with us, in the isolation of our homes. Surely God is with us, surrounded by beloved pets and creatures outside our homes. God is found in the chorus of chatter of our housemates and the messiness of our lives. God With Us can help blossom the seeds of hope once more within our hearts.
Come, Emmanuel. Come and blossom in this season of darkness. Come be with each of us as we struggle to connect. Come God With Us and rescue us from our despairing minds that do not trust the warnings of those around us. Allow our imaginations to catch hold of all that is possible through you and yet is unseen. As the flower that blooms despite the snow, we see that hope can brighten the bleak landscape of our lives.
- In this year, where in your life do you connect with God With Us?
- What are the signs of hope that blossom in your heart?