From Exile to Hope: December 1, 2022

From Exile to Hope: December 1, 2022

November 30, 2022


By: Nan Smith

So there were fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen generations from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen generations from the exile to Babylon to the Christ. (Matthew 1:17 CEB)
There is a hiking trail that follows a river that I have walked upon since I was a wee one. A place so familiar, that my feet just know the right way to go without me having to really think about it. It is a terrain that has been etched into my very being.

I know what to expect around the next bend or over the distant rise. I know where to find the plump blueberries in late summer and where to find the sun-warmed rocks of granite on a cool fall morning. I know where the clearings of birch are to be found and where the ferns grow thick. I know where the moss-covered rocks form a natural staircase and where the thick roots lie in wait for the unsuspecting hiker. I know where the hemlock overhangs the dark still pools of water and where the best vantage points are to be found to view this river’s many waterfalls.

Simply put, I know and love the land this trail meanders through.

Which is all well and good, for of course there is a certain comfort that comes with such familiarity. There is a certain security that develops when you expect no surprises and can easily anticipate what will come next. Predictability is soothing to the spirit. It is calming to the soul.

However, lately, I have wondered how much I have missed or how much I have not noticed, simply because I was not really looking for it or anticipating it? How much has been lost to me, because I was not expecting that it would be there?

That is the down side of being so deeply familiar with something. You can go into it never expecting the unexpected and so can easily miss those out of the ordinary experiences. In other words, a person might miss that glimpse of white as a snowy owl is winging through the woods or they may fail to notice the exquisite lichen growing upon a rock, simply because they are not expecting to find those moments or possibilities.

In a sense, this has been what has happened for me when it comes to Advent. In my work as a pastor, I was so familiar with the Advent terrain that I was trying to offer for a congregation. I knew the Advent themes of waiting, anticipation, expectancy, and preparation. I was so familiar with that interplay of light and dark.

But knowing and experiencing are two very different things.

After so many years, I have found that I am no longer expecting to find the unexpected in Advent. There is no anticipation that I will feel the exhilarating movement of the Spirit during this time of preparation. For me, my familiarity with this season, has caused a compliancy where there is no anticipation of possibility; of what might be.

It has been a sobering realization for me. One that has left me wondering as to when did the expectancy die within my soul and more to the point how do I go about finding it again?

So, in this Advent season, my starting word is openness. Let me be open to possibility, to the unexpected, to the wonder this season offers. Let me not only be open to it, but embrace it when I encounter it. May the Spirit shake things up and help me experience Advent through the eyes of wonderment, surprise, and delight.  My Advent prayer has simply become: “Let me be open, O God, to being surprised by you.”

Of course, that can be a prayer that is a little scary to offer. You don’t know what might happen when you invite that unpredictable Spirit to take root within you.

However, I have already been surprised by the simple joys and unexpected movements of the Spirit I have experienced this season. For instance, this past Sunday, listening to the preaching of Rev. Dr Mary Bellon, I was caught by her use of the phrase “genealogy of grace” when speaking about the genealogy that starts the Gospel of Matthew.  Such a simple phrase, but one that brought me an unexpected fresh meaning concerning those verses. The people listed in that genealogy are people, who like each of us, stand in need of God’s abundant grace.

Like us, they each have their own stories of brokenness and, like us, they can find grace at the manger.

An unexpected insight, a new thought to consider, a gift that the Spirit is inviting me to ponder. The blessing and possibility of this Advent is upon me. 

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