Advent is a season of waiting, but I’m not sure we’re in the mood to wait. It’s a season of expectant waiting as we prepare for both the Feast of Christ at Christmas and the return of Christ at the so-called Second Coming. But the Feast of Christ is a memorial, and we’ve been waiting for the Second Coming so long we might wonder if the first coming was the sufficient and effective one, the one that counted, after all.
Think of all we’re waiting for. We’re waiting for the coronavirus pandemic to pass and for life to return to normal, even if it’s a new normal. We’re waiting for social, cultural, and political differences to quit dividing our neighborhoods and our country. We’re waiting for our greatest hopes to be realized, for our most pressing needs to be satisfied, for life’s most urgent questions to be answered.
We’re waiting for God’s peaceable kingdom to appear, when the poor receive justice, the wicked their just desserts, and when the wolf and the lamb coexist in peace (Isa. 11:1-9). Are we to wait forever, or is what we’re waiting for already here, hidden in the ordinary. Is it, like a mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32), so small and inconspicuous we easily overlook it? I think I’ve caught glimpses of it recently, and I’ll bet you have, too. Here are two examples from last week.
First, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, revealed she had a miscarriage in July (“The Losses We Share,” The New York Times, Nov. 25). She described the “almost unbearable grief” that comes with losing a child. When she was in the hospital, her husband at her side holding her hand, they struggled to imagine how they would ever heal from the trauma of their loss.
She recalled a conversation she had with a journalist a year earlier, when she was being hounded so harshly by the British tabloids, and she remembered the journalist asking if she was okay. After the miscarriage, the duchess wrote, “Sitting in a hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realized that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, ‘Are you OK?’” She noted the pain experienced by so many this year, and she urged others to make space for compassion.
In the midst of the greatest losses and pain, the greatest disappointments, the simplest act of heart-felt compassion – like asking sincerely, “Are you okay?” – can open a door to the healing and renewal of life that the good news of God’s reign on earth is about.
The second example is Liz Pearce, a communications professor at the University of Iowa, who offered to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal for 130 of her students who might be spending the holiday alone. “I know this has been a difficult time for a lot of you,” she wrote to her students, “– some of you have had Covid, some of you are currently in quarantine and some of you may not be able to go home for Thanksgiving.”
Within hours, the post collected close to a million likes, over 70,000 retweets, and thousands of comments. One student wrote that Pearce “is absolutely too pure for this world.” “I was so blown away,” the student said, “with the response and how many people were as touched with Dr. Pearce’s act of kindness as I was.”
The offer to cook for her students was “no big deal,” Pearce said. “I just wanted everyone to know that there was room at my virtual table.” “It’s been such a gloomy time,” Pearce wrote. “Everybody is so raw right now, so even this little gesture has been interpreted as magnificent.” “Lots of students wrote back,” she continued, “and said . . . that it really meant so much to know that I cared. It was such a little thing to do, and that is what is blowing me away.”
Kembrew McLeod, the communication studies department chair, has known Pearce for ten years. He called this “just an authentic expression of who she is as a person.” Only a handful of students accepted her offer, but dozens of emails flooded her inbox with notes of gratitude, and countless offers (including from strangers on social media) to donate money for groceries or help cook the food. Pearce politely declined the offers.
“Don’t just pretend that you love others,” Paul wrote. “Really love them. When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out. When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow. Live in harmony with each other” (Rom. 12:9-16, sel.). When we do such simple things – ask someone, “Are you okay?”; offer a meal to the hungry or companionship to the lonely – the life we’ve been waiting for, the fulfillment of God’s eternal promises, falls into our laps. Incarnation happens.