It’s Advent, and I am waiting for Jesus, trying to keep my eyes open to see him when he shows up. I’ve committed to some particular prayers; I’m meeting one-on-one with each person in my community. I’m listening to the lectionary—listening for clues about where to look. The words of an ancient monk are on my mind: “he comes to us now in order that his future coming may find us prepared.”
But I know all the stories about how religious people aren’t prepared. We fall asleep. We let the oil burn out of our lamps. We ask with apparent innocence, “When was it that we saw you hungry and didn’t feed you?” When was it? No doubt, when we were earnest. No doubt when we were trying to wait faithfully.
As we attend to the cracks in Christendom and the crumbling of so many Christian institutions, emerging Christianity faces the same temptation I do: the sneaking, pride-filled thought that old forms of faith are dying because our ancestors weren’t paying attention. We too easily see their blinders, too easily see their mistakes. And we think to ourselves: we can see clearly. It will not happen to us.
But we fall asleep, all of us. However clearly we may see the problems we hope to overcome, we are blind to the things we can’t see. How could we possibly be right about the things that we haven’t even thought to address? “When was it that we saw you hungry and didn’t feed you?”
Our only hope is that something or someone might wake us up. Grace means this: God interrupts us. The old, old song gets sung again, and somehow we hear it anew. It’s Advent, and we are waiting with Mary. We are singing Mary’s song:
My soul glorifies the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…
God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty…
We are singing familiar words, but we are singing them after America’s autumn. We are singing Mary’s Song in the midst of national discontent with our current economic system. We are singing with images of Occupy Wall Street protests and Move Your Money Campaigns in our minds. We are singing not just for ourselves, but for the two billion people who live in the slums of megacities on less than a dollar a day. We are singing a new song of God’s economy slipping in on the margins, in little communities where no one is watching. Like a baby in Bethlehem. Like a movement in first century Galilee. Like all those monks who’ve tried to welcome Jesus today so they’d be prepared to greet him at the last day.
All of a sudden, we are awake. We’ve been given eyes to see God’s economy as the alternative we need.
This is my Advent prayer for the emerging Christian movement in North America: that we’d open ourselves to be interrupted by the good news of God’s economy in the places where we are.