Advent I: Seeking the Holy Through What We See
By Angier Brock
from Luke 21:25–36. “There will be signs…. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud…. Look at the fig tree and all the trees…. When you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”
Recently my 16-year-old granddaughter Lucy and I have been texting each other at day’s end to name something from the day that brought us joy, piqued our curiosity, or otherwise aroused our gratitude or delight. Often that involves simply naming something we have seen with no further comment. Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter, all in tonight’s sky, I text. Super clear lake water, she texts back. I love this daily engagement with a beloved granddaughter. I also appreciate the fact that the practice invites me to closer observation of the world around me.
The Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Advent does a similar thing. In it, Jesus urges his disciples to pay attention to their world. “Look,” he says. “See.” And then he goes a step further, inviting them not only to observe, but also to reflect on what they have seen.
Observing and reflecting—seeing with our eyes and then seeing more deeply with our “mind’s eye,” or intuition, or inner spirit—is a good discipline for Advent, a good way to seek out the Holy at work in our lives. Over the four weeks of Advent, there will be much to take in visually: holiday decorations, shiny ornaments and other treasures brought out of storage and placed just so, greeting cards, holiday clothes, stained recipe cards we use only at this time of year (some written, perhaps, in the familiar hand of a loved one no longer with us), and Advent wreaths with their purple candles. Also, there are the lists—grocery lists, gift lists, wish lists, “to do” lists. For all of Advent’s wanting to be a quiet, reflective season, it can easily become an overly busy one filled with distractions.
I find that one way to slow down is to spend a few minutes each day pondering just one thing I have seen, one thing that has brought me joy, piqued my curiosity, or otherwise aroused my gratitude or delight. For instance, going back to my text to Lucy about the planets, I think about that image and ask it to speak to me of God. What comes to me is what I call the “dance of the universe” that God has built into creation, a dance characterized by both change and constancy. The planets move apart and grow closer together at different times and in different configurations. Their positions change in relation to each other, other heavenly bodies, and the tiny pinprick of life on planet Earth that is me. But the constancy of each one’s moving in its own orbit does not.
As we near the end of another year that has been filled with all manner of chaos and insanity, I find reassurance in the interplay of change and constancy. Much of the year’s news has involved changes that are destructive, demeaning, worrisome—pandemic, ecological and environmental disasters, political unrest, racial tension, economic disparity. But if I can back away from all of that and see a larger picture—the sun coming up each morning, the moon turning through its seasons, the York River running to the Chesapeake Bay on its way to the Atlantic Ocean, and the many good people of this earth continuing to do good, sacrificial, honest, creative work—I can begin to catch my breath and remember that God abides. God is coming, yes, bringing goodness and light, newness and hope. And also: God is already here.
What about you? What have you seen in the last twenty-four hours that makes you smile, or wonder, or feel grateful? When you reflect on what you saw, what aspects of God come to mind? If you are a journal keeper, write down what you saw, along with a sentence or two about how and where the Holy is present in your life.