Longing for an Unforced Advent

Advent seems to come like an unexpected visitor. We can anticipate its coming by the calendar. And yet, we cannot chose what will be interrupted when the season thrusts its way into our lives.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” - Luke 1:28

I wonder if Mary had been having a good day before the angel came.

Did she wake well-rested from an evening dancing with lovely dreams? Was her time around the table with loved ones the night before still lingering in a feeling of fullness? Was she walking with the lightness of a day bursting with possibilities?

Or did Mary wake up on the wrong side of bed, having one of those days that plunged deeper into a hole with each step? Did she exchange harsh words with her parents? Were her arms fatigued from carrying water and her patience exhausted from having no choice but to do it again? Did she have one of those knots in her shoulder that irritated everything else she tried to do?

I wonder how Mary felt in the moments before the angel broke into her life. Like so many things that followed, it was a factor outside of her control. 

Advent seems to come like an unexpected visitor. We can anticipate its coming by the calendar. And yet, we cannot chose what will be interrupted when the season thrusts its way into our lives.

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Life does not come one feeling at a time. Births and deaths, miracles and disappointments, abundance and need, friendship and loneliness… all these and more mingle and meander through our days and weeks. 

There are times when this Advent longing feels like just the right season. The events of the last week highlighting more clearly than ever our need for the Prince of Peace to break into this world with His justice and love once and for all. We long to see shalom restored. We can feel to the depths of our souls that this world is not the way it’s supposed to be.

But there are others times when this season of Advent longing feels forced. Though we know this world is in need, those realities feel distant. We are keenly aware of our blessings, and stuffed full with the richness and celebration of the Christmas season.

And at those times, we can feel guilty. Honestly, Advent longing sometimes feels like a big religious “should” heaped upon our fluctuating December emotions.

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Yesterday, I was edgy most of the day. I was feeling vulnerable, and it came out sideways as irritability. Not quite the feelings I hoped to carry into the first Sunday of Advent. Try as I might, I couldn’t get them to turn.  

Yet, I wonder if Advent is not as much about forcing certain feelings at it is about carving space. Advent is about finding space to notice... Where do we feel Christ’s presence in our lives and where do we wish He would show himself a little more clearly? Where does the world seem to reflect His goodness and where does He seem far away? 

Then, we can pray. We can read the Scriptures. We can look for ways to serve our neighbors. Even if we can't enter into Advent longing with feelings, we can do so with our mind and actions. Sometimes the emotions may follow, and sometimes they may not. And either way, it's okay.

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I wonder how Mary felt in the moments after the angel broke into her life, as she anticipated the birth of her Son. Pregnancy is looong. My guess her emotions fluctuated through fear, joy, longing, sadness, disappointment, boredom, excitement, gratitude, and grief. Perhaps sometimes even cycling through a multitude of those feelings all in the same day.

Regardless of how she felt, it didn’t stop time from moving forward. The world’s longing for a Savior stepped closer to fulfillment with each passing day.

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Advent is about making space to notice Christ. Thanks be to God that His coming is not dependent on my emotions.

Calling on the Name of the Lord

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;     make known among the nations what he has done. – Psalm 105:1 (NIV)

What does it mean to proclaim the name of the Lord?

At best, it sounds like the formal and churchy terminology found in many worship songs. At worst, it creates an awkward picture of someone standing on a street corner shouting the Lord’s name at random people passing by.

Either way, it doesn’t strike me as very personal.

When I look at the Hebrew for proclaim, the word is qara’, which means to call out. But that is not all.

It also means to “encounter.”

When I think about the name of the Lord, I look at Exodus 3:14, when God proclaims the identity Yahweh, “I AM.”

Psalm 105
Psalm 105

What does it mean to encounter I AM?

Suddenly, what once felt formal and distant, feels intimate and powerful. And I'm reminded how so much in what prayer and praise feels like returns to how we view God.

Are we on the ground, shouting to the sky, hoping God might hear us if we perform up to the standards of a great Diety?

Or are we going about our lives while encountering the a loving God whose presence is both beyond us and with us in all things?

Jesus talked a lot about having ears to hear and eyes to see. Maybe He was calling us to the same thing as this Psalm: an intimate encounter with the great I AM.

And with that, the second half of the verse also feels completely different. Perhaps we are not telling others about what God has done in order to appease the Lord’s need to be recognized, but instead experiencing and overflow of gratefulness for the ways we have felt and seen and experienced Yahweh’s nearness to us.

Encounter I AM.

Maybe that means pushing away the noise and finding space in which you can hear Yahweh speak to your heart. Or maybe it means leaving yourself open to find Yahweh in the places you’d least expect God to be.

That was my reflection on Psalm 105. Link up with your own thoughts below. And stop back next week when Psalms Journey heads to Psalm 106.

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What do we do with vengeance Psalms? Here are 4 ideas.

Psalm 94 is one of those sections of Scripture that you run across and wonder what to do with it. I mean, it starts with the address, “O LORD, the God of vengeance.”

That’s not usually how I begin my prayers. God of love? Sure. God of grace? Definitely. God of vengeance? Not so much.

Just a wild guess, but I’m thinking I’m not alone in that one.

So if you are like me, what do you do with Psalms like these? Psalms that feel prickly, archaic, and detached from the faith we practice day in and day out?

What do we do with vengeance Psalms? Here are a few things that come to mind as I read Psalm 94.

1. Pray their words.

Yup, I know it sounds crazy, but maybe we need to pray some words like these more often. In my middle class, comfortable, suburban American life, it’s easy for me to lose touch with the groaning of this tired and broken world.

But this world does groan, doesn’t it?

“all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” –Romans 8:22-23

And if we are in touch with this reality, shouldn’t we groan, too? Shouldn’t we cry out to our Lord along with the Psalmist,

“How long, O LORD? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? How long will they speak with arrogance? How long will these evil people boast?” –Psalm 94:3-4

In crying out, we lean into our faith that God will one day make things right. And oh, how beautiful that day will be.

2. Wrestle with their words.

There are phrases in psalms like these that make my hair stand on end.

“He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you? He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing? The LORD knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless!” –Psalm 94:10-11

But instead of running away from that yucky feeling, what if we move towards it? What if we research what was going on at the time and place in which they were written? What if we looked for threads that could still be true today?

Maybe looking for answers would do more to strengthen our faith than to weaken it.

Psalm 943. Find comfort in their words.

Most Psalms are not filled with only one emotion. In the midst of frustrated cries for justice and vengeance, the Psalmist still manages to cry out with words of hope.

“I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” – Psalm 94:18-19

I love that picture of God supporting us while we slip. (In fact, it reminds me of what I wrote about last week!)

4. Find God in their words.

There’s an important characteristic of God shown throughout all the Psalms, perhaps vengeance Psalms more than any other:

God’s unconditional love for us can be trusted.

It is safe to bring our whole selves, our honest selves, and our hidden selves, before God.

This Psalm, and others like it, doesn’t clarify the theological accuracy or morality of its requests. But it does clarify the character of God hearing the requests.

God does not shy away from our human emotions, weakness, selfishness, frustration, or anger.

When we cry out, no matter how ugly the words, God leans in. He keeps listening. And He holds our hands. Maybe even tighter than before.


That was my reflection on Psalm 94. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week with your thoughts on Psalm 95.