Living In That Moment
Listen to “Living In That Moment” by Fred Smith
Raised a Baptist I had no exposure to what I later learned is called the liturgical calendar. We observed Christmas, Easter, Lottie Moon offering for foreign missions, and Annie Armstrong offering for home missions. Anything more would have made us less Baptist and more like our almost-Christian friends the Methodists and Presbyterians. I thought Advent was no more than National Teacher Appreciation Day or Arbor Day. Later, because my father was eclectic, we did attend Presbyterian and Methodist services now and then. I say attended because we always knew this was not real worship. The hymns were different, the pulpit was misplaced and there was no fried chicken, Training Union or Sword Drill. We grew up certain of our traditions but not our beliefs. We had a very clear picture of who we were as Southern Baptists. But we had no idea what it was – other than hymns, cuisine, full-immersion and architecture – that distinguished us from the pretenders to true faith around us. All our doctrine was to be found in the Baptist hymnal. We sang our convictions. This clarity of culture did not have to struggle with Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Mormon or Muslim faith and practice. Scientology had not yet been invented, we had only heard rumors about what Episcopalians did on Sunday. The biggest issue around diversity in religious faith was whether or not you went to hell if you did not vote a straight Republican ticket.
But as I am well into my 70’s now, I am not only more like my father but reflecting more about hope and Advent. Hope is not the same as optimism. Optimists believe that things will get better. It’s an attitude. Hope tells us that things will end well even if they do not get better. Optimism makes assumptions about the present and hope takes the long view. Optimism can sometimes overlook the facts but hope faces them squarely while persevering. In other words, I am not an optimistic person but I have become more hopeful.
Teaching Isaiah 64 and 65 on the first Sunday of Advent this week I felt a genuine connection to the remnant who were hopeful about a new world already on its way but not yet arrived. They were full of hopeful expectations but not optimistic assumptions. It was enough to know that in spite of their circumstances they could prepare others – generations away – for its arrival. They prayed for God’s coming and, once again, for him to do the unexpected. Even though he was silent now they remained hopeful and ready to be surprised. He was always faithful but unpredictable.
I’ve been thinking this week about the challenge of the long wait. How do we stay faithful when things are not exciting? How much more do we need to believe God loves us? How do we persevere when it is not persecution that threatens us but the need to stay entertained or constantly blessed in new ways? It is not suffering that kills our spirit but the mundane. We mistake enthusiasm for enduring expectation.
But our life is measured by how well we wait. How do we live with expectancy and not fall into unfaithfulness or sleep? How do we manage to fulfill that “long obedience in the same direction” while we wait? How do we, as Paul said, live in hope of the not yet seen but keep our eyes focused on what will be even though it is not yet? I think that is the mark of maturity that is so difficult to master – to wait and not lose heart or fall asleep.
And that may be our burden: learning to wait with anticipation. I want to wait with expectancy that it may come now and with hope if it doesn’t. I want to live in that moment Frederick Buechner describes in “Advent.”
In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.
You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.
Advent is the name of that moment.
Art by Lawrence Alma-Tadema