Advent: Living the Questions
The season of Advent interrupts our holiday plans.
There are lists of presents to buy and wrap. Boxes full of decorations to be hung. Cards with photoshopped family pictures to be addressed and mailed. Dinner parties and holiday gatherings to dress up for and attend. Family plans to be made.
Even for pastors and congregations, the season can become overcrowded with programming and planning. These four weeks of the liturgical calendar are filled with special events like hangings of the greens, choral presentations, and candlelight Communions, alongside four Sunday services that require added thought and intentional planning. Not to mention pastoral care for end-of-the-year surgeries and the push to make the budget by December 31. No wonder pastors go into hiding the week after Christmas!
In the midst of all the holy hustle comes the Advent call to wait, watch, prepare, and hope.
How does Advent interrupt our holiday plans? It interrupts with questions.
The Advent narratives are filled with questions. In the first chapter of Luke’s gospel, four particular questions arise as Luke lays the groundwork for his Christmas account:
“How will I know this is so?” - Zechariah (Luke 1:18)
“How can this be?” - Mary (Luke 1:34)
“Why has this happened to me?” - Elizabeth (Luke 1:43)
“What will this child become?” - the people (Luke 1:66)
The questions slow the narrative and invite us as readers to pause and reflect, even for the briefest of moments. It’s hard to read a question on the page and jump immediately onto the next sentence. Questions demand that we pause, wait, and wonder.
Jesus knew this well. Martin Copenhaver writes: “In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 [questions] of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings. In fact, for every question he answers directly he asks - literally - a hundred.”
As we enter this season of preparation. We long for Jesus to be born once again into our hearts, into our relationships, into our churches, and into our communities. We know that something needs to change. We struggle with where and how to begin, or we spin our wheels tinkering with the same old ways of doing things. We read a blog post and add another strategy to our to-do list.
But we can’t find a quiet minute to hear the questions Jesus asks of us and to ponder their significance. Maybe it would be enough this Advent and beyond, simply to sit with the questions Jesus asked. - to learn to “love the questions themselves,” as Ranier Maria Rilke put it.
There are more than enough of them to create an Advent calendar with a new question for every day! (I’m not recommending that.) But, here are a few of Jesus’ questions that we might want to ask ourselves - not simply as individuals or church leaders, but as whole congregations:
“Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
“Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?" (Matthew 6:27)
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye yet fail to perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2)
“Could you not watch for me one brief hour?” (Matthew 26:40)
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)
“For who is greater, the one seated a table or the one who serves?” (Luke 22:27)
“Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6)
“Do you love me?” (John 21:16)
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of this season - especially in our churches - will we let the questions of Advent interrupt our lives and draw us into the mystery of Christ that is always unfolding in this world? I hope we will.
Rev. David M. Brown
Pinnacle Leadership Associates