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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent

Advent's Invitation: Receive God's generous love

(Join me in reading Enuma Okoro's Silence -and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent.) Why is it so difficult to grab hold of God's goodness? I think there are many qualities of God's character that seem more intuitive than His goodness: His power, His wisdom, even His sovereign control of this spinning planet.

But His goodness?

Or maybe it's less that I doubt His goodness and more that I sense my unworthiness of it. How can God be good to me?

"Sometimes, when God offers a word, vision, or dream that seems too good to be true, we require a lot to believe it," writes Okoro, referencing Zechariah's disbelief at the angel's announcement. "It is almost as though we have conditioned ourselves to have little or no expectations of divine generosity extended toward us."

What conditions us to disbelieve God's goodness? Is it our losses and disappointments that testify against God's goodness? Is it the cruelty of others that erodes our willingness to believe in goodness? Is it the portrait of the angry, capricious God of judgement, which has been unfairly painted for us somewhere in our history of pews and Sunday school, that has erased the potential for seeing His benevolent love?

Where is the locus of doubt? Why all the misgivings?

And what is the result of doubting that goodness?

Maybe we pray less, ask less, expect less.

Maybe we fall into patterns of self-reliance rather than trusting dependence.

Maybe we can't receive the good God gives with hearts of gratitude.

Maybe we're never fully convinced of God's presence in life's joys.

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32

Advent extends to us an invitation to believe: the God who sent Jesus is generous.



Advent's Invitation: Sing a New Song

I'm reading Silence - and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro, and the first week of reflective readings centers on questions of doubt and unmet longing. We don't often associate doubt with the season of Christmas, but historically, that is the most appropriate way to understand the story. This past Sunday, our pastor took as his text Isaiah 9 and was quick to remind us that Jesus arrived in a time of darkness and gloom. The Miracle of Light exploded over a landscape of despair, and I suppose Advent may be the most appropriate time to speak of our sadnesses and deep disappointments, our doubts and unmet longings. Living with life and its losses can be our greatest invitation into the longing for Advent and the coming of the Promised One Whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Okoro reminds us of the gifts our believing community gives to us when we find ourselves in our own private backyard of grief - both chronic and acute. "Sometimes when we find ourselves too burdened by the extent of our longings, too prayed out, or too exhausted with coming before God, we can look to others to bear our burdens prayerfully until we regain our own strength of spirit. A believing community shoulders hope when circumstances seem hopeless. A believing community speaks boldly into despair and longing and suggest that things do not have to remain as they are in the presence ef a holy, imaginative God."

There is incredible tension in that place of worn out, exhausted faith where our own prayers have run out of gas, and it's the prayers of others, which propel us forward. But it can be a beautiful place of expectation. Faith is the looking forward, the believing for new vistas of goodness. Longing and loss, darkness and gloom aren't final chapters in God's story: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined."

And what is to be the result of our coming to Advent with this sense of expectation - and of Advent coming to us in the full brilliance of Christ?

"I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,

And set my feet upon a rock, making my steps scure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD." Psalm 40:1-3

This Advent, may the LORD give us a new song: instead of songs of doubt, a song of faith; instead of songs of darkness, a song of Light, instead of songs of complaint, a song of gratitude; instead of songs of turmoil, a song of peace; instead of songs of self-pity, a song of praise.




Advent's Invitation: Cultivate Silence and Stillness

I confess: I am coming late to Christmas this year. I know - it’s only December the 11th, but it’s as if today I’m just beginning to let the season of Advent sing over me. It has been a busy month: two speaking engagements, a major writing deadline, sick kids, out-of-town guests - and to all this have been added the emotional and spiritual burdens of an undecided life and the marital conflict, which those decisions have surfaced.

This morning I did what I routinely do when deadlines have passed and I’m seeking inner calm: I cleaned my house and baked bread.

There was a book I had intended to read reflectively this Advent, a book that I have only bought and begun today. It's called Silence - And Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. Already, I’ve found it to be a beautiful and lyrical invitation into the Advent narrative of Zechariah and Elizabeth, whose story I remember well from some of the Advent posts I wrote last year. (Check them out herehere and here).

If you don’t have any special reading you’re doing yet for Advent, I’d recommend this book of daily reflections to you. (Yes, you can come late to the party, just as I have.)

Even the preface offered words I needed to linger over:

“During Advent, we repent of the habits and practices that turn us away from the loving God who is always reaching out to be reconciled to us.”

Quite honestly, I have never thought of Advent as a season for repentance. That would seem a more fitting a term for Lent, but I suppose that the Christian life is never exhausted of repentance. When is it ever inappropriate to take seriously this first word of the kingdom?

And what exactly is it that we repent of? “Habits and practices that turn us away from a loving God.”

I am reminded of Jesus’ patient words of warning: the spirit is willing, but the body is weak. In my mind and heart, though I might purpose to love, obey, and serve Jesus, something often obstructs the way forward.

Me. Me. Me.

My habits and practices: the ways I accommodate myself to the world rather than to God; the distractions of the virtual noise and the busyness of life and lists; the daily decisions when I preference what’s easiest and most convenient. This is my accumulated numbing - intentional as well as subconscious - of my life to the voice of God.

God is taking the initiative to love me, but as a matter of habit, I’m too busy for the slowing that is required to meet His invitation.

“Advent is a season to ponder, to listen, to understand that prayer is as much about cultivating stillness and attentiveness as it is about offering our words to God. This listening for God is a difficult business. It requires a willingness to be patient and to be still. It requires disciplining ourselves to consistent times of sitting quietly before God and waiting for God to meet us in that space.”

Willingness: This is the work of the Spirit, a real movement of grace in our hearts that draws us into the longing of Him. Praise God for willingness. It is a gift we receive by faith. Never doubt that your willingness to want God isn’t evidence that He has long wanted you.

Discipline: But this is the work of our response to that bidding love. We need real resolve - which become our habits and practices - to attend, heed, absorb, secure, confirm, and obey God’s voice. How easy is it to let the voice of God rattle around noisily inside our minds and bodies without ever allowing it to do its intended work of transformation?

“Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

I’m inviting me - you - this Advent season to the slow and patient work of waiting and listening, of cultivating stillness and silence. And may this produce in each of us repentance.