Advent Ponderings

“In the juvescence of the year / Came Christ the tiger… / The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours.” (from “Gerontion” by T.S. Eliot)

I was going to write about these lines (and clearly I still want to, but they don’t fit in with my thesis anymore. Here they are nonetheless).

A few days ago, I would have written something about these lines of poetry. I love literature and unconventional ways of describing Christ and God, but this past week drove that all away. Last Wednesday, during a routine physical, my doctor found a lump under my arm. She wanted it checked out. I would need an ultrasound. I nodded and walked out of her office. Mechanically, I grocery shopped for a dinner I was bringing to a friend. I argued with the pharmacist over an albuterol inhaler. I cooked dinner, fretted over my lack of a tupperware for the soup, and wished I’d made a dessert too. And then of course my imagination took over.

My mind raced and raced and raced. I went down some dark roads. I was thinking about how to take a leave of absence or could I still manage to teach through treatments? How would I pay for all this? And of course, I was terrified of dying. For the a week, I have been terrified and crippled by anxiety and tears. I’m not saying this to be dramatic; I was crying a lot.

In this weakness and terror, though, I was surrounded by strength and compassion and prayer. There were hugs, comforting words, laying on of hands, the works. I was going to say that I never felt the palpable presence of God during this week of waiting, but that would be incorrect. Because of course, I did feel God’s presence; I just felt it through hugs and prayers rather than hearing a voice in my head.

As I was reading my Advent devotional today, William Willimon wrote that we forget how passive we are in the nativity story. We are the receivers of this great gift. Before we can be Ebeneezer Scrooge blessing all of London we need to realize just how empty-handed we’ve come to this table. I usually focus on my own generosity and my own attitude during Advent, and I don’t think this is necessarily wrong. I want to be generous and chipper. But to some extent, that gives me a sense of control. Before I can be a giver, I must be a receiver. It was a little uncomfortable to receive all this care and attention, but I can’t imagine soldiering on alone. I received the all-clear call this morning, and there were lots of happy messages sent. Life can return to normal. But I do think this week was a gift, if only to open my eyes, even for a while, to the fact that it’s not that I love God but that he loves me, and that this love looks like the love of friends and family.

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:9-12)

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