Friday, December 18, 2020

Walking and Waiting

Walking. The idea came to me recently when I heard someone remark how walking has saved them during this pandemic.

Scripture is full of people walking. People journeying from point A to point B. We also refer to the spiritual life with walking motifs. I Googled “Advent and walking” and found countless resources on that theme: Walking Through Advent, Walking to the Manger, How to Organize an Advent Hike, Walking the Road to Bethlehem, and the list goes on.

Advent is a journey we take from Day 1 to Day 25. Each day is a mile marker as we make our own way to see the Christ child in the manger. The characters in the Christmas story encountered literal journeys full of walking as well. Mary probably walked to visit Elizabeth and Zechariah. Mary and Joseph walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem, with their donkey in tow. The shepherds herded their sheep all day, walking throughout the countryside. And the wise men walked the longest distance (or rode camels, either way someone in their party was walking), led by the light of the star.

If you are a walker, you know it is a slow undertaking. It is rarely a race, but a gradual movement towards a destination. Walking reminds us that Advent is like that as well. It is a time to slow down the pace of daily life and focus on the details that make up the journey to Bethlehem. Each step is deliberate, nothing we read or hear is unimportant. All the pieces are intentionally laid out to lead and grow us along the way. Walking involves waiting. And in Advent, we get a crash-course in what it means to wait well.

Evan Welcher, a pastor and poet from Iowa, has written extensively on the topic of Advent, waiting, and grief in his book Advent: a thread in the night. In an article he wrote for The Gospel Coalition, Welcher says,
Advent helps the saints to persevere until he who began a good work in us brings it to fruition (Phil. 1:6). It reminds us that prophets of old looked longingly into the future for the hope of Christ’s coming (1 Pet. 1:10–12). Their hope is the same hope we look back on. And like them, we also look to the future, awaiting his return.

For in the here and now we are sojourners in the valley of the shadow of death, plodding between the two advents of our God and King.

. . . Perhaps you have prayed, in the quiet hours of the night, "O Lord, how much sadness can be poured into one fragile human vessel, composed of little more than dust, before she irreparably shatters?"

Warm waves of resurrection will at long last thaw out and restore your tattered heart. So take heart, beloved. Resurrection day approaches.

Until then, though, we need Advent.

Advent is a walk we need. This year more than ever. As we near the end and approach Christmas day, many of our walks will continue to be characterized by waiting, sorrow, fear, and uncertainty. But as we take each step, let it be a saving force of Hope as well. Just like Paul Harvey’s story of The Man and the Birds (see my post from 2011), we have this assurance:

Jesus has come. And He will show us the way.  

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