December 11, 2017
By Jane Bishop Halteman

 Watching, waiting, listening…our KRMC manger scene awaiting the baby against the starry night backdrop created at our hanging of the greens service

We prepared our hearts and minds for the wilderness journey of Advent yesterday as Nancy and three young boys led our waiting in the silence during the lighting of Kern Road’s second Advent candle.  More often than not found scooting around the building after formation hour in a game of hide and seek, these three (including my own grandson) sat in complete silence while we quieted ourselves in order to prepare for this season of watching, waiting, listening.

Preacher Andre described stilling ourselves as a way to bring peace and comfort into our fear, a way to slow down to make space in our lives during the season of Advent. “Watch, wait, prepare, listen are key Advent words,” he said, comparing the posture of quiet attentiveness to “letting your eyes focus in a too-dim room” in order to accommodate the change that is coming. If you haven’t trained your imagination, you might miss the change.”  

The news for which we are watching and waiting, Andre said, will be “news that makes a difference for everyone, world-changing news. Something big is about to happen.” Prepare to change your whole way of thinking because God’s new order is breaking in,” he advised.

Noting that the wilderness experience appeared in the Isaiah 40 (the grass withers and the flower fades) and Mark 1 (John the Baptist prepares the way) scriptures read prior to his message, Andre suggested that “if you want to be open to something new, you’ll likely need to travel through wilderness. It might be an inner wilderness, or an outer wilderness, disorientation where nothing makes sense anymore.”

Perhaps it will be the wilderness of illness or aging, a parent dies, a partner gets involved in an affair…all unbidden, but time to pay attention, no more business as usual, he said. And we have been involved too long in the wilderness of suicides, #metoo, harm to the earth and its creatures, police brutality, he added.

“We need to spend serious time unlearning and relearning; odds are we will find the new vision in the wilderness” rather than in structures of stained glass and padded pews. And he warned that we should not be “too quick to know what the new thing is. When we finally stop to open ourselves to the disruption of the wilderness, perhaps we will hear the words of John the Baptist saying, ‘The one who comes will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’” 

Pastor Janice’s congregational prayer observed that “we see wilderness everywhere…in looming nuclear war, in newly stoked stresses in the Middle East, in personal violations of women and men, in the California fires.”

We wait on the world front and in our congregation with those who find themselves in distress and wilderness, even as we rejoice with those whose waiting has turned to gladness, including Josh and Becky who received word of a tentative travel date to meet their daughter in Thailand and Mabel and Dario who have finally been awarded a restaurant permit after a long period of waiting.

“Definitely God has plans for us,” Mabel said of their wait for the permit to come through, “and, like my dad (a Mennonite pastor) used to tell me, “God has God’s times, which always are different from ours.”

While waiting, we “go through many emotions: first hope/excitement, energetic to get things done quickly; then anxious, as we keep waiting and questioning ‘why’ and starting to feel depressed; then passive, a feeling of NOT being in control of the situation” just as we struggle not to lose hope, she acknowledged, adding that “I think God is teaching us to leave our burdens 100% in God’s hands.”

Elaine and I went to Lessons and Carols at Church of Our Lady of Loretto on the Saint Mary’s campus Sunday night where the sights and sounds and fragrances of Advent swirled around us…the building’s stunning interior and gentle candlelight, the soft gurgling of the baptistry nearby and beautiful choirs and congregational music with bell choir and organ, the smell of soft, melting wax followed by extinguished flames during the candle-lighting…all of which drew us into the watching, waiting, listening of the season.  

I resonated with these words from the dismissal:  “Our spirits quiver between trust and terror” as we continue on this Advent journey, each facing our own wilderness.  Can you identify your times of wilderness?  How has the Divine met you in your personal wilderness experience?