This past Sunday was the beginning of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas that celebrates the coming of Christ. In our church service we lit the first of four candles for Advent, a symbol of our anticipation and hope of Christ’s coming. In front of us sat a young couple with their toddler daughter, a tiny winter-clothed bundle of blonde hair and curious eyes. I watched as this little girl discovered the world around her, pointing upward whenever the lights would brighten or dim, and noticing when the words on the screen would change with the music. Her father tenderly nuzzled her and would give her approving nods and smiles each time the tot would discover something new around her. It was easy to see the delight this young dad found in his child. Sensing her desire for independence, he put her down so she could play on the floor and explore the world underneath the stadium seats. Even though he was engaged with the worship, the father kept a watchful eye on his daughter to ensure she didn’t wander too far or injure herself by pinching a finger in one of the old chairs. I continued to watch as she walked around, each step taking her an inch further from her father, but each step stopping to glance back to make sure he was still close. I love observing this developmental stage in children because it is a dichotic display of both a child’s trust and desire for their parent yet a desire for their own freedom. She wandered into the middle of the aisle, turned around to notice her parents swaying with the worship music, and began to emulate this by imitating their stance and starting her own sway. This lasted for only a few moments as she soon found herself bored with the swaying and suddenly overcome with an intense curiosity to discover the contents of her mother’s oversized purse. With determination and zeal she was quickly to the purse and on the precipice of dumping out the treasures when her discovery was halted by the large hands of her father lifting her out of the purse’s entanglements and off the floor away from the temptation to continue her pursuit. I waited in expectation for the child to begin crying from her exploration’s disruption, but instead she turned to face her father, saw the smile on his face, and wrapped her tiny arms around his neck. She closed her eyes and peacefully melt into her father’s strong arms, fully trusting and loving that she was held by him.
As I watched this scene unfold before me I began to think about the symbolism of the acts. I related to the little girl, curious and wrought with a desire for independence, but deeply longing to not wander too far from her loving father. Too often I find myself trying to imitate what I’ve seen my Father do, but am quickly distracted by new possibilities and opportunities. I try to match His sway, but I take my eyes off of Him and forget what I had started. I lose pace with Him and it doesn’t take long before I am covered in a mound of distractions I have dumped upon myself. I recognize there have been times when God has allowed me to sit in the heap I have created, permitting me to learn and grow in my own way. Thankfully, there are other times when, like the father of the curious toddler, God is quick to swoop in with His large hands and pull me out of the entanglements and temptations.
In my young 26 years I have learned that life rarely goes according to schedule. You design plans for the life you want to create and it doesn’t take long before you’ve brought an eraser to the blueprints and are trying to come up with a better alternative. In the last few years I have worked some challenging jobs – jobs with teenagers, jobs in 3rd world countries, jobs with foster children, and jobs within a red-taped bureaucracy. I’ve met frustration and grief as I’ve watched vulnerable populations be inadequately cared for, or worse, not be cared for at all. My heart aches as I see today’s headlines scroll across the television and social media as though nothing more than voyeurism of humanity. There are times that I sit in the entanglements and mess and wonder if God sees what I’m seeing.
But despite all of this…I still work. I still work because I live with a hope and anticipation that Christ will come again. I will work because I believe each person matters. I still work because I believe we are not abandoned children, left uncaringly by an inattentive Father. My passion is driven by the knowledge that Christ will again reach down into the mess we’ve created and lift us into His arms. I live with hope because I know there will come a day when I too can peacefully melt into my Father, arms wrapped tight around His neck, and simply trust in that moment with Him. But until then, there is work to be done.
And so in this Advent season I will continue to work, but I will continue to live with anticipation of Christ’s arrival. I will hope for the freedom found only in the presence of God. Like Israel, bound and captive, I will effort toward freedom from the entanglements and hope for the hands of the Father. And whether in whispers or shouts, I will continue to live in the chorus…
Emmanuel shall come to thee,