THE REV. ANNE THORNBERG READ THE BELOW AS PART OF HER AND JEFF’S “ADVENT FOR DUMMIES” SERIES. WE ENJOYED IT SO MUCH THAT WE FELT IT DESERVED PUBLISHING FOR EVERYONE!
Before coming to Church of Our Saviour, Jeff and I have lived together in four different states. We met in NYC; Eleanor was born in Portsmouth, NH; we spent three years in Indianapolis; and Hattie and Francie were born in North Carolina. When you have so many people who you know and love all over the country, you tend to keep up with them on social media. In the last couple of weeks, I have seen countless pictures and posts with commentary on what a joy it is that 2020 will be behind us by next week. While there is no doubt that this year has been unexpected, difficult, isolating, and at times downright depressing, the hope in me for 2021 is not dependent on flushing this year down the proverbial toilet or running at full tilt away from the dumpster fire that is the year 2020. Instead, it’s leaning into it. Leaning into the mess that it has been and seeing where God’s light has broken into the mess of our lives. The incarnation, God being born into the “mess” of humanity, is the most profound gift God could have given us. The gift of relationship, of human connection, is of utmost importance.
The isolation this year has brought has made me realize how much I took for granted real, human interaction and my need to be in relationship with not only people who I love but also people I don’t know at all.
Sometime after the shutdown, I ventured out to Home Depot as one of my first “in person” shopping experiences after sheltering in place and ordering online all the things we needed to sustain our life. But for some reason, in that moment, if felt safe enough or worth the risk to venture out into a communal place. I remember standing in the light bulb aisle, staring at the towering shelves of countless LED lights thinking that I should have done more research because I was lost. Just as I was about to give up and head home, an older gentlemen who was employed at Home Depot approached me (at a safe social distance), made a joke about needing a PhD to understand LED light distinctions, and offered to help me navigate my way through my decision. I found that I had to choke back tears in that moment. Not because I was ecstatic about the lights but because I hadn’t realized how much I desperately missed human connection. The incarnation is the most profound gift God could have given humanity.
One of the beautiful things about the miracle of the incarnation and the season of Advent is that Mary created space for God to change her life, and in allowing God to do so, Mary helped change the world. But Mary had to say yes, she had to keep showing up, she had to allow the transformation, she had to make space and let God’s light shine through her. And God did that in the form of a child—the most in-your-face, enmeshed, interwoven kind of relationship there is.
The thing about the incarnation that is easy to forget when I set up my tidy crèche scenes and perfectly placed mother and child is that, in the incarnation, God dove head-first into one of the messiest, most strenuous and raw pieces of humanity. By diving into matter, he made it all matter, all holy, all sacred. The incarnation makes the difficult, the messy, the laborious sections of our lives the most holy and gives them meaning. And in those times that feel almost unbearable with joy, with love, with grief, with loneliness, God is there. My hope is to stand in that space, holding hands with others (metaphorically in 2020…thanks, COVID-19) and see the light shining through those moments.
As I look toward the new year, with new joys and new possibilities, I see hope in the renewed sense of importance we all seem to accord relationships. 2020 has shown me how desolate life can be without one another.
So, where do I see the hope in 2021? I see the hope in this moment. I see the hope that even in the midst of social distance and isolation, more than 20 of us gathered for an Advent class in a clearly imperfect setting, week after week to invest in relationship with one another: to laugh together, to share our stories, to listen to one another, and to sit and wait as we navigate the challenges of life (and Zoom!), side by side.
The incarnation is the gift of presence and relationship, and the way I can access the miracle is through my relationship with God and others. For me, I have experienced the miracle of the incarnation in our time shared together on Zoom. And while I don’t think any of us would say that this setting is ideal, I just keep trying, I keep coming back, I keep making space, making space for one another and for God. Making space for God’s light to shine through the imperfection. Emmanuel, God is with us, I am with you, and I believe you are with me too. For me that’s it, the hope, the light shining in the darkness.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Annie Thornberg+