My priest asked me to write an “advent reflection” for the church newsletter, and this is what I submitted, after forgetting at least twice, after a deadline was extended for me.
I am thinking about those Magi.
Advent is the season of waiting and preparation, two activities for which I am ill-suited, if my day-to-day life is any indication. I can barely keep the laundry up-to-date and the pantry full enough to feed my small family, and I often lose track of the chores on my list, and then I lose the list, too. So when I ask how to prepare for the Christ child to arrive in my life, anew, and how to prepare for the Parousia, that future coming of God to complete the work of creation, the people who capture my imagination are those mysterious magi, about whom we know so little.
What kind of people watch the sky so closely that they know nearly two years in advance when the paths of several stars will meet? What kind of people are so learned that they can read the meaning of such things? What kind of people know a good thing is coming, know it so deeply they will sell whatever it takes to gather money and resources to make a journey so risky, halfway around the known world? These are wise men, we are told, wise enough to know they might lose their lives in the process, in a foreign land at the hands of strangers. What does it mean to be so hopeful and so ready?
The Magi invested their whole lives, their minds and hearts, watching for something life-changing. Years later, perhaps after these students of the sky were long dead, Jesus spoke the parable of The Pearl of Great Price, about a nutty guy who gave up everything he owned—and one would assume his livelihood as a pearl merchant, too-- to obtain a pearl he never intended to trade, just for the beauty and perfection of the thing. I wonder if Jesus was remembering a story his mother told him about sky-watching travelers from the East, who knew about Jesus’ coming birth even before Mary was told by an angel. They packed frankincense and myrrh, which are beautiful, and about as useful as a pearl to a baby whose parents are on the run.
When I think of the dumbfounded shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem, I see someone more like myself, but both the unprepared shepherds and the brilliant Magi yearned for the world to make some sort of sense, yearned for God to show us more clearly what life is about.
Perhaps I do have a gift for Advent: I am yearning for the fullness of God’s kingdom to take hold of us all and sweep us into that place where there are no more tears. In the words of a popular song, I am yearning for that place where the streets have no name. Tell me what you are yearning for, and perhaps we can get ready for that place and time, together. What if we were preparing for a long journey, one that could take years, and we wanted to bring the best of ourselves that we could offer? What if this journey required commitment, sacrifice, cunning? What if this trip might be the very best moment of our lives?
A blessed Advent to you.