First Advent: Presence in the Chaos

November 27, 2011
Cheryl Woelk |

With the first Sunday of advent come the simple little changes that I have come to make to mark this season as set apart. Placing candles on the table, shifting devotionals from regular materials to special advent resources, getting out Christmas music and decorations, and planning special worship with our faith community all happen year after year during this season. 

The themes are familiar too -- waiting, hope, expectancy, looking for light in the darkness, longing for justice and peace to come on earth. Somehow, though, I need these themes again each year. 
With our community this morning, we spent a meaningful time remembering the familiar themes in worship and reflecting on Isaiah 64:1-9. The seeming chaos of emotions in this passage resonated with me. The passage shows anger and frustration at what is going on with the nations, screaming for God's intervention. At the same time, the writer confidently names God's power as sufficient to create dramatic and lasting change and expects it to happen.
For 15 minutes during the service, we each took some time to reflect and listen. As I watched the wind blow the leaves down the street below the window where I sat, I remembered the next words from Isaiah, "We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." Some leaves were racing through the air, while others piled up in crevices along the curb. In just a few minutes, though, all the leaves were gone.  
I thought about my insufficient and failed efforts to create change in the situations of injustice and hurt around me. Fear, complacency, selfishness, and other "iniquities" in myself and the surrounding culture blow my attempts at peacebuilding around like the leaves that I watched. While I can continue to seek to learn more about creating peaceful relationships and societies around me, ultimately, I am very helpless.
As we returned to our gathering and came back to the Isaiah chapter, I read verse 8: "Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." After all the lament and pleading, the writer finally gives in to the sense of helplessness. There IS nothing we can do. We are not the doers, God is. All we can do is respond as clay to the potter's hand, and live into that freedom of God's embrace.
Moving into the advent season, I hold Isaiah's chaos of emotions within me. The rituals, stories, songs, and candles may be the same as every year, and the themes may be familiar. Yet, all of it together creates a space strong enough to hold the complexity of the human experience. This advent season, may we set apart this time to intentionally live into the complexities within us and around us, and watch for how God will work within the chaos.
Author Name: 
Cheryl Woelk
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