01 Dec Experiencing the Presence of God
Several weeks ago someone in my church shared this quote with me. It has been on top of my “inbox” ever since, and every so often it catches my attention and I read it again. Today I realized what an apt description of Advent it is.
We may ignore
but we can nowhere evade
the presence of God.
The world is crowded with Him
Advent is all about preparing for Emmanuel, “God with us.” The church recognizes that seeing God, hearing God, and experiencing God’s presence doesn’t automatically happen. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Our lives are so busy, so noisy, so crammed and overcommitted that often we have left no room for God at all. But, that doesn’t mean God is absent. It means, as Advent encourages us to do, that we need to focus intentionally on seeing how God is present and preparing to encounter the Divine.
It’s ironic, isn’t it, that during this season that is all about Christ, Christ becomes the thing that so easily gets crowded out? How have we let this happen? Do we not see the absurdity of it? The reason we give gifts is because God gave us the gift of his Son. The reason we focus so much on family and friends we love is because God loved us so much that Jesus became one of us. Our holiday festivities—parties, caroling, feasts, decorating, special events or foods—are ways we participate, too, in the joy that the angels and shepherds knew at the birth of the Christ Child.
When we forget why we observe the traditions we do, it doesn’t take long for the what to consume all our time and energy. Before we can say, “frankincense”, we are stressed by the baking and wrapping and tree-trimming rather than experiencing it as a joyful celebration. We become more concerned about doing things just so than with enjoying the people who surround us. We worry about getting all the shopping and preparations done rather than blessing people with the gift of our loving attention and time. The collective weight of all the expectations—so many of them self-imposed—ends up leaving us fatigued and frazzled. Jubilant tidings of great joy seem a long way away from our harried lives.
We think this distracted, beleaguered reality is a modern, 21st century phenomenon, but we’re wrong. The gospels are full of the resounding call to wake up! be alert! pay attention! God is right here in your midst—don’t miss it! Even then, people faced the same temptation we face: to ignore, dismiss, overlook or disregard the presence of the Holy that in every moment of every day crowds our world.
The question is whether or not we want to see it. Make no mistake: the truthful answer is that often we don’t, for to acknowledge God is to acknowledge that I am not God. That’s a domino that a lot of us simply don’t want to push over. But, I wonder, might we choose to be brave this Advent season? Might we choose to quiet our minds and hearts in order to attend to the presence of God? Might we summon the courage to tell the truth about how driven we are and about the price we are paying for hurrying past one another without ever seeing each other? Might we dare kneel before the Holy Child in reverence and awe and see what happens when we embrace, rather than evade, God’s presence in our world?