Advent Watching

Black Hole, Part 6

My first application deadline arrived. Clicking on the ‘Submit’ button last Monday was terrifying. In the naive optimism of a procrastinator, I thought I would have completed my essays weeks ago. Yet, even as I was sending them out in the final days for review to a few readers (arguably one of the most difficult steps), I got back the most wonderful thing: encouragement. Through the wrestling and questioning, the debilitating moments of panic, I can say, with God’s grace and more than a little help from friends, I have made it to here. The first one is done, now it’s time for the rest of them.

However, what I cannot think about is the life that is not (yet?) to be. The slightest whisper brings costly tears that I do not have time to let spill. I stopped going to acupuncture, stopped thinking about timing, stopped wondering. I certainly have not been watching what I’m eating, unless you count the cookies and sips of wine as they head towards my lips.


What does watching entail, anyway? I find it fascinating that we have these different words for taking in the world with our eyes: watch, see, look. They are active verbs even when noting a fairly passive scenario. To see something, like a rainbow, is to denote hiatus or pause long enough to observe an external phenomenon. Then there’s the dynamic of looking–the person does all the work in looking, scanning to see or recognize something on the other end of the gaze. To watch for indicates activity combined with waiting, expectancy. The latter two verbs require completion: looking towards, watching for, waiting… wondering…

The Advent narratives are filled with waiting and wondering. Luke’s gospel begins with a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who waited for years and wondered if they would ever have a child, only to see the years pass by with no blessing while shame and disgrace piled high. Their barrenness parallels that of Israel, who for hundreds of years had waited for the Messiah and wondered if he would ever come. Then there’s Mary, Mother of God, who had to wait for her expectancy to show, and wonder if she would be accepted by Joseph and his family. In these stories, the characters only know to watch for something after a significant interruption, which brings in another sight word: appeared.

Divine messengers appeared to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in her home, and to the shepherds in the field. These are fully God’s action upon humanity. Then suddenly there appeared… Had the characters prayed for such a shock? Had they been looking towards, watching for, God? How do we take this for ourselves? Once upon a time, God sent…but that was then, this is now. Yet now is the time when we talk about miracles, even in our post-Christian, consumer culture. What were Zechariah’s prayers in the weeks and months before the angel appeared? Did he continue to pray for a child?

I am wrestling with a question that emerges when we do believe in miracles. When we expect God to act, to interrupt because he has done it before, in the person of Jesus, born from Mary, and in our own lives, at some point. How do we expect? How do we watch and wait? How do we anticipate interruption? Jesus would close parables with, those who have eyes to see… Yet, what if we don’t know what we’re looking for? Our eyes take in a lot, especially this time of year. Further north, our eyes are adjusting to shorter days, which means, in part, the displays of Christmas lights are that much more brilliant. It’s easy to miss the smallness of our Savior, born in Bethlehem, even with all the illuminated replicas around town. The manger almost blends in with all the other lawn dioramas. So, how do we see something that is before us? How do we look for the God of the Impossible?


God’s timing is not our own (just ask the Israelites). But if we are to be people of Advent, we must anticipate interruption. We must want God to mess with us, really. We must long for the sake of longing, desire a deeper capacity for desire, and expect to be interrupted.

Do we have eyes to see God’s handiwork this Advent? Are we looking for grace and joy? Watching for love? I hope so.

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