This Sunday, the First Sunday of Advent, marks the fifth anniversary of the end of my tenure at the parish I served for many years. Following the traditions of the church I have stood back while new relationships and fresh starts took firm root. This “time out” has been good for the church and for me. Now, on this first Sunday of Advent I feel moved to write to you in a new capacity. I have yet to put a finger on what that role might be. Hopefully we will discover the shape and role of these missives together. So here goes.
This morning I am put in mind of my younger years. Like many of you, my teen years and early twenties were filled with a drive to find my place in this world. Even more than that, I felt compelled to discover the meaning and purpose of my existence. I was not alone in this search. For my circle of friends, the center of our quest was a need to “find” God and an abiding relationship with the Divine. I suspect that you may use different words or imagery to describe this shared need for something deeper and larger than self. Some of our Christian friends are fond of asking “Have you found God?” or “Have you found Jesus yet?” In one form or another, all of us know something of this search.
As the years have gone by I have become increasing appreciative of the season of Advent and an aspect of its message. Advent turns our shared quest on its head and demonstrates the irrelevance of the question “have you found God, Jesus or the Creator of the Universe yet?” The central story of this season is about a God who does not stand at a distance, but a God who steps forward. One of the central mysteries of Christianity is that the Creator of All does not need to be found. God comes to us.
Holy Scripture gives testimony to this aspect of God. The second creation story speaks of a Creator who strolls in the garden with the first human family. Farther on in the Bible story God did not wait for Abram to find Him. Instead The Lord God went to Abram and called him to a new relationship and mission. And in this season of Advent we hear the story of the Author of All Existence coming to the human family in the person of His son, Jesus the Christ. It is easy for us to miss the fantastic difference between a God who needs to be found, and one who does the finding. Advent calls us to begin to plumb this difference.
We may not be characters in the scripture stories, or living lives that make headlines in the journals of our shared faith. But I pray that each of us know that God has not stood back and waited for us to find Him. God has already found you, me, and all humankind. God comes to us every time we gather in prayer, and every time we receive the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. The Creator of heaven and earth comes to us in the thrill and wonder we experience at a glorious sun rise or set, in a walk along a beach, when we sit quietly on a river bank, when we hear the words I love you, and when we hold a newborn child. Most especially God has come in the infant of Bethlehem.
Every Advent I am struck by the fact that the God of All Things has come to me in so many ways. I hope and pray that this Advent season each of you cherish the fact that you too have been “found” by God. God has come to you, and continues to do so each and every day of your life. God’s pledge of this is the birth of His son.
The inevitable question of what all this means and what the ramifications may be for our lives can wait a bit. Maybe until Epiphany, Lent, Easter, or even Pentecost. Right now it is enough for us to rest for a season in the wonder of the stories of Advent and Christmas. This is the season to prepare for God’s most wondrous gift. We are the people of Emmanuel, God with us.