Blog Series: God is Near. God is Now.
Recovering the radical hope of the Advent and Christmas seasons has vast implications for how our congregations or alternative ministry contexts see themselves, the world, God’s presence, and how to move forward in turbulent times.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas we observe Advent… that period of waiting before the miracle of Christmas. We linger in the liminal space between when the prophecy was declared and when the promise is fulfilled. We are at the threshold… the doorway… the edge… the precipice… Looking to and longing for Christ’s appearing… We wait.
I’m reminded of the long held tradition in many Black Churches where at the end of the year we gather for Watch Night Services. Watch Night originated back on December 31, 1862, where both enslaved and free Black folks gathered to bring in the New Year when the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect, thus freeing all enslaved peoples yet in bondage in the Confederacy.
Freedom’s Eve was a time of prayerful watching and waiting – a time of spiritual songs and anticipatory praise – a time of reflection – a liminal space between the darkness of slavery and the hopeful dawning of liberty. Sadly, for my ancestors, nighttime would linger for two more years before Jubilee, while dawn, some would say, still tarries. I along with my enslaved ancestors continue to wait for daybreak.
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
On a lighter note, I’m reminded regularly by my grown and almost grown children, that I am no longer a young man. I’m reminded by both my mind and my body, that they are absolutely right! I forget things more easily now. Sometimes going from my office upstairs to the kitchen downstairs, I forget why I made the trip. I admit that some of this is owing to my age, but much of it has to do with my over-wrought schedule and my disturbingly bad habit of multi-tasking myself into messes and near madness. My cluttered mind is a chaos created by my own incessant busyness bolstered by my inability to abandon my good protestant work ethic and the graceless compulsion to be productive all the time. I digress…
But thank GOD, I married a patient woman who also happens to be a mental health counselor. Now, I don’t know where she got it from, and I’m sure that what I’m going to say is widely known, but here it goes… She once told me that when I find myself forgetting what I was heading to do, I should retrace my steps and go stand in the doorway.
In my preacherly need to paraphrase, I’ve translated her guidance:
Learn to linger in life’s liminal spaces until both memory and motivation becomes clear. Go stand in the doorways. Linger in those liminal spaces until your spirit and mind catch up with your body. Wait, until memory returns, before you move on.
As we observe Advent, rather than rushing madly toward Christmas, maybe we should practice a bit of meandering, loitering – perhaps lingering in this liminal space. By doing so, maybe, just maybe, we will begin to remember our whys. Perhaps our waiting will allow us to become more deliberate in our attention to the many messages, the potential ministries, the lives that are already happening in the hallways.
Perhaps we need to go stand in some doorways – between our offices and the sanctuaries – lag a bit in our vestibules or lobbies – linger before the altar before we enter the pulpit. Life is happening there.
Linger until the memories of our sacred pasts return.
Linger until the memories of our promised deliverance and our future purposes coalesce.
Life happens in liminal spaces.
Advent. Liminal space.
Between the ‘already’ of God’s promise and the ‘not yet’ of its manifestation. We wait.
Advent… At the threshold… In the doorway… On the precipice… We wait.
Even if dawn tarries. We wait.
Advent. Longing for Christ’s appearing. We wait.
The Spirit is present with us.
We wait together.
God waits with us.
On the lightest note – lingering in liminal spaces may even provide us the small miracle of remembering where we put those eyeglasses or set down that coffee cup!
When life gives you liminal… Linger there.