The uncertainty of what is ahead only seems to increase. This is an Advent season like no other. Yet, on the other hand, every Advent is intended to return the believer’s focus to the uncertainty of waiting, of hoping, for the fullness of God’s Kingdom on earth. Perhaps the whole year of 2020 has been an Advent season, one filled with anxiety, disruption, and sorrow-filled longing.
At the end of February 2020, which now seems like years ago, I was in South Africa helping staff a master’s degree course orientation. As part of that time, we had a three-day retreat that included times of silence and contemplation. Of course, none of us knew that in only two weeks, much of our calendar would be radically altered. Sometimes when you are about to face some of the greatest struggles, or the greatest uncertainties, God gives special times to anchor and dwell in. And that is what happened to us.
Each morning we listened to a beautiful meditation called New Beginnings, included on an app called Pray-As-You-Go. [See further resources.] The meditations perhaps best fit the Advent season we are now in, preparing for Christmas, but there was certainly a Divine orchestration happening of preparation for us all in the timing. One of the days dealt with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, focusing on the passage from the Gospels in Luke 1:26-38.
For the past several years, the words Mary offered in response to the angel have resonated deeply within me: “Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be done to me according to what you have said.” (Luke 1:38, Amplified). “Let it be done to me according to what you have said,” she replies. The place of trust, of ‘letting it be’, has become very real again to me in this season of Covid-19. For the past two months, my wife and I have battled this nasty virus personally and are only now beginning to recover. It has been a time of uncertainty and asking questions: What does 2021 hold for us? When will we feel an energy and strength again? Waiting, this Advent season, has become even more precious.
With the meditation in South Africa also came several important questions. They were important to me in February, and I journaled my responses to them. But with what has happened in the world since that time, these questions take on an even deeper meaning. They are also important for an Advent season like no other. I would suggest that if you find them meaningful, you read them slowly, several times, and then write your responses in a journal or a device where you will not lose them.
1) What invitation are you aware of that may mean stepping outside of your comfort zone into the unknown?
Can we think of this global pandemic, even with its staggering losses in life and economy, as an invitation that takes us out of our comfort zones into the unknown? What does that look like for you? What is the specific invitation for you? For me?
2) What requires trust so great you’d be prepared to put aside your dreams and plans for how life would unfold for you? In what area do you need to ask for the gift of trust?
We need the gift of trust in this time of unknowns and uncertainties. What area of your life do you specifically need that gift of trust right now and in the days ahead?
3) What unexpected, perhaps even unwelcome, twists and turns may be signaling possible new beginnings?
Upon arriving in the United States for meetings, just a few days after writing my response to this question in my journal, the whole world changed for me. We were not able to go back to Asia from the US and have been here since. Then two months ago, we got the virus ourselves after taking all the precautions we knew to take. The unexpected, and even the unwelcome, became the new normal… and not just for me. What do these twists and turns signal to you of a new beginning in your life?
4) Where is God empowering you and reminding you that you are not alone?
Where do you need to know that you are not alone? Where are you sensing God’s empowering for the new beginning ahead of you?
Let these questions sink in. Pay attention to what you are feeling, what your body is saying as you read them and ponder. Are you tense? Relaxed?
A new beginning is ahead in this Advent season. That beginning involves active waiting, as Mary experienced. Active trusting. It is a posture that enables us to sit with what is happening right now in our lives and in the world, however uncertain it may be.
In late 1982, a few months after arriving in Kolkata, India to start work for my missions organization there, I had to go to Nepal to renew my visa. It was a very difficult time as I had begun to suffer with various sicknesses that would become my norm over the next few years. The people I was staying with loved the music of John Michael Talbot, a former rock singer on a contemplative journey that would lead him in radically different paths to what he had known before. His quiet music of that period matched the depths of my soul.
Of the several Talbot songs that spoke deeply to me, one of the richest was Empty Canvas. It has come back to me many times in the decades since, including in this difficult season where my wife and personally have had a battle with the Covid-19 virus. With the uncertainty the world faces at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021, this song expresses well the active waiting of Mary, and us, before the Master’s brush.
Empty canvas waits before the Painter,
waits to be the painting it must be.
Unto this end it has rightly been created to reflect rightly
what the Painter sees.
A beauty that will surely find its life within its dying
so another might be born again.
And in this constant death a constant beauty is created
within a constant love that never ends.
Jesus is the Master Painter.
And the Holy Spirit is the Master’s brush
to be dipped within the colors that portray the Father’s love,
that the canvas of our life might know the Master’s touch,
to portray the beauty of the Master’s brush.
So an empty canvas waits before the Painter,
empty canvas destined to be hung within the gallery once it has been created.
Will the canvas bear the beauty of the Son?”