Are you familiar with Craig Childs? A resident of Norwood, a denizen of the Southwest, Craig is a prolific writer. His observations are consistently keen and nearly always wise.
While I wait for word about Craig’s next book release, I follow him closely on Facebook. Unlike some in the public eye, Craig is faithful about sharing his comings and goings, his musings and even his mishaps.
A week ago Craig posted a picture of himself sitting alone on a sunny promontory overlooking some trackless expanse, Paradox Valley was my guess. Craig’s beard was thick and white, a smile peeking out from underneath. Craig’s hands rested in his lap, relaxed and open, quietly inviting me to slow my tempo and trust.
“Good morning,” Craig’s brief post began. “I’m wishing you a fine place to sit this Sunday, taking in the only day in existence. Carry on.”
Craig’s comment gave me pause. He was right of course. And still his words took me by surprise. Maybe it’s because throughout my life I have used a month-at-a-glance calendar. Its days are all neatly squared off and stacked on top of each other, some leaving, others arriving.
Craig is right, of course. Today is the only day in existence. Everything else is either memory or anticipation.
Craig’s wisdom is on my mind this morning as we step into the holy season of Advent. During Advent, our feet firmly planted in each day, we look back in time and we also look ahead. We recall with gratitude the ancient promises spoken through the prophets that would at last find expression in the birth of the Messiah.
Similarly, we look ahead with confident hope, as Dr. King did, to a day yet to come when what is birthed isn’t an infant but an endless age of love and justice. A new heaven and a new earth, as the Book of Revelation promises.
Standing in this day, heads up so that we can catch sight of what God is doing, we anticipate what is yet to come when, as Luke reminds us, our day of redemption draws near.
On that day, everything Jesus lived and died for will be fulfilled. On that day, everything God has intended from the beginning will be realized. On that day, the last lovely stitches in a handmade quilt long in the making will be made and tied off. All of creation will wrap itself up in God’s goodness and grace; strife and struggle will be no more. Together we will rejoice that love has indeed won.
During Advent we revel in the past—a past that is unique to each us as well as a past that we share, one that we have inherited as God’s own. During Advent we listen anew to scriptures of old, to the prophecies and promises given to a people whose hope was in tatters and who clung to God for all they were worth.
During this season that prepares us for the coming of the Prince of Peace, we sing carols handed down through the centuries. We bring out our memories one ornament, one embellishment at a time.
And yet as precious and rich as the past may be—the past we have inherited from our spiritual ancestors, the past we ourselves have lived—we are only visitors there. We cannot take up residence in the past. Today is the only day in existence. The past can kiss us today, the past can bless and revive us today, the past can form and inform us today, but yesterday is not ours to live again.
And the same with tomorrow. We can look ahead, we can prepare, we can open our arms to her or tremble in fear of her, but tomorrow is not yet here. Her turn has not come. And so to imagine ourselves already there, to invest in picturing ourselves days or months or even years from now, as understandable and as human as this may be, is to risk missing out on what is being given right now, today.
From your experience in the church, you may recall that each of the four Sundays in Advent has a focus to guide and shape us.
Today’s focus is hope. In the coming weeks, we will invite peace, joy, and love into our midst. We’ll breathe them in like pine incense. We’ll feast on them like bread and honey. We will receive each gift as together we journey toward a day that has been promised but has not yet come.
So today our focus is hope. It occurs to me that we can seize hope, we can summon hope, we can call upon the hope that sustained those who came before us, but hope not something you and I generate. It’s ours for the taking, a gift from a God who loves us and who gives us every reason to hope.
Hope is different from optimism. Optimism is for some a temperament and for others a discipline. But hope is what comes when we plant ourselves in the present and survey all that God has done, all the ways God has been faithful, holds us up.
Hope comes when we consider all that God has yet to do, all the ways God is today working to fulfill God’s promises for tomorrow. We reach out our arms in hope, lifting our eyes to catch glimpses of God’s future perched on the horizon.
Today is the day we are given. We rest in yesterday’s gifts, in the countless ways God has shown up, in the long history of God’s marvels and miracles, in the consistent threads of love and justice which God has woven through time. We anticipate the day to come when all God has wanted for us is fulfilled at last. And today we live as best as we are able, noticing what God is doing, observing in ourselves and in the world what God is creating.
Some days what God is doing is fairly subtle. Other days, as with the recent verdict in the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial, what God is endeavoring to do is monumental.
It’s our noticing that matters. Noticing from a place of hope. A place of confident expectation that God is here, with us now, calling us into a future that to our eyes is murky at best, viewed as the apostle Paul would write, through a glass darkly.
How are we to live in Advent? We cannot revive the days that have passed. But we can mine them for treasures and wisdom today. We can seek healing for what still hurts.
And if we cannot go backwards, neither can we rush into a season whose time has not yet come. We live today. And we do our best to travel through the day open to the movement of the Spirit in this, the only day in existence. We attune our eyes and ears to what is being given here and now.
How do we do this? We practice. How do we do this? We take time to notice. We note the places, today, that need help and healing, that are waiting—with all creation—for peace.
Let me offer a simple story that might prove helpful as we think together about being present, about being an Advent people living one day at a time.
The unknown author begins with a confession and then describes an encounter with an elder. There’s a secret here, hiding in plain sight just like Craig’s recent wisdom.
“Sometimes I want it to stop,” our storyteller begins. “Talk of Covid, protests, looting, brutality. I lose my way. Become convinced that this “new normal” is real life.
But then I meet an 87-year-old who talks of living through diphtheria, Vietnam protests and yet is still enchanted with life. He seemed surprised when I said that [this year] must be especially challenging for him.
“No,” he said slowly looking me straight in the eyes. “I learned a long time ago not to see the world through the printed headlines. I see the world through the people that surround me. I see the world with the realization that we love big. Therefore, I must choose to write my own headlines.
“Husband loves wife today.” “Family drops everything to come to Grandma’s bedside.” He patted my hand. “Old man makes new friend.”
His words collide with my worries, freeing them from the tether I had been holding tight. They float away. I am left with a renewed spirit. My headline now reads “Woman overwhelmed by the spirit of kindness and the reminder that our capacity to love is never-ending.”
In one of Mary Oliver’s most well known poems, there’s a line that reads “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”
Advent is too gracious for such a weighty question. Instead, Advent asks this: knowing what you know about God, knowing what you know about Jesus, knowing what you know about a love that will not let us go, what will you do with this one wild and precious day? This day that is the only day in existence. This day that the Lord has made.
Let us pray:
We are grateful for the past, O God. We thank you for the past captured for us in scripture, in stories of your people and your love for them. We are grateful too for the past that has shaped our lives directly, through our relatives, our families, ourselves.
We are also grateful for the future, O God. For your continual bending of the moral arc of the universe in the direction of justice, for your continual beckoning to join you in this holy work. We await the day of redemption of which Jesus speaks not with fear but with confident hope in you.
We find you in the past, we look for you in the future, and we meet you here, today. Teach us more and more how to be present to our lives and to your Spirit, at work in ways great and small. All this we pray as Advent begins. Amen.