In my 20s I made a New Year’s Resolution to swim in natural bodies of water. It was my way of recognizing and confronting a tendency to prefer comfort over experience. If I were on a hike, or strolling by the ocean or boating, I determined to jump in and swim; to make it my default.
Over the coming months I swam in everything from frigid snow-melt in the mountains of Colorado to the warm sway of Hạ Long Bay in Vietnam. These swims could prove jarringly cold or unexpectedly pleasant, thrilling or cathartic, but, at the threshold of each plunge, I found myself questioning the value of my strange resolution—cold water makes me reticent like few things. Never once did I suffer regret for these dips. They became threads in the fabric of my life when I was most alive; exhilarated! I’ve sought to make this my rule ever since, and, though always apprehensive, I’ve never yet been disappointed.
Suspension in calm powerful currents of natural water is a baptism of sorts; an exiting of one reality and submersion into another. The prospect of being cold, wet and buffeted always gives rise to reluctance, yet each river, each stream, each lake or ocean or sea or pond offers an undeniable invitation; an impromptu adventure, if only I’ll have it!
I am being converted.
Advent shares roots with adventure. The two words are cousins, as are their ideas—advenire; to come! Would you come into the unknown? Plunge into the tossing waters?
The Broadway musical Mame not only introduced the world to Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur, but also the iconic number, “We Need a Little Christmas”. You can likely belt out its upbeat and urgent chorus,
For we need a little ChristmasRight this very minuteCandles in the windowCarols at the spinet
Whence such Yuletide exigency? It continues:
For I’ve grown a little leanerGrown a little colderGrown a little sadderGrown a little older
The tune is more saccharine than sacred, prescribing a sugar-rush of trivial merriment and holiday trappings. Yet I’m arrested by its urgency. “I’ve grown leaner, colder, sadder, older…” I find myself in dire need. We are all in dire need, and could it have something to do with Christmas?
May I suggest Advent?
In the agonizing account of king David’s betrayal at the hands of his son Absalom, a woman shares a provocative word with the distraught king:
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain estranged from him.
We live in a world of estrangement and fragmentation. Maybe we always have. But how obvious this has become! We are a troubled and tribal bunch. Thermodynamics provides a term for this: entropy; a degeneration from order to disorder. And if this is dismaying in the inanimate realm, it is heart-sickening within the human race, for this is a personal sort of entropy, and its casualties are people, relationships and communities.
Jesus once said, “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Isn’t that sad? Isn’t it apt?
But we’re told that God is a devising God. What a captivating image. These losses and deaths and separations are never something he will tolerate. It is not his nature; not his disposition. This may strike us as subtle, but it is sublime and it is significant! It was meant to steady and console a grieving king. It might do something similar for us.
The God of Advent is not indisposed, but superlatively disposed. Beholding our frigid and inhumane tumult, he is alacritous—overwhelmed by pity, justice and love. One might rightly say that the God of Advent couldn’t not come, for, given the choice, he absolutely did!
But I’m outpacing myself.
Don’t we need a little Advent just this very minute? Maybe we need a lot. Couldn’t we all rediscover something too important to be given up on in ourselves and in one other? Surely we’re not content to be so lean, so cold, so sad, so old.
The disposition of God is to enter chaos and emptiness; to enter our chaos and emptiness. Yours and mine. He is neither naïve nor cynical, but beholding our plight clear-eyed; as frigid and frightening as any Nor’easter.
Without hesitation his knees tense for the leap, it is a forgone conclusion.
The God of Advent cannot stand afar from our misery; does not! The God of Advent is predisposed to come; to come to us; to come for us! His disposition is ever toward us; toward you and everyone else.
Thus goes the hymn,
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Wouldn’t we do so well to merely assay the quality of this otherworldly disposition—the incomprehensible philanthropy of the God of Advent? Would that we might also treasure this disposition by making it our own! What could be more needful in this very minute?