Advent 2 – Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6
“. . . as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” (Luke 3:4)
(This is a revised 2009 reflection. In my new 2012 Advent reflections I’m ignoring more traditional interpretations of the Advent/Christmas scriptures. Of course, you may read this and think, “Hey Larry, this 2009 piece is also ignoring the obvious!”)
I veered toward the man.
A few months before, on this walking route, construction had temporarily closed surrounding streets. Now the site—a new regional blood supply center—was complete and I could choose a recently added sidewalk or a lawn hugging the top curve of a cul-de-sac that linked me to my usual path.
As I approached the man, full-tilt in my morning stride, I debated what to do. The guy sat on a faded green utility box at the lawn’s edge, his head slightly bowed and a cap shadowing his face. Frankly he looked suspicious. A bum? A danger? Should I take the sidewalk and circle around or walk right by him? Before construction, I’d preferred the lawn.
So I chose the lawn. Stubbornness? A personal declaration I wouldn’t be deterred from my route? Maybe even a thimbleful of anger.
After all, I walked because I hadn’t biked.
My morning routines are important to me. Many years ago, unsettled because my practices of prayer were off-kilter, I sought help from a friend, a colleague in ministry. God felt distant, I said. Worse, I felt distant in my relationship with the Holy. My friend listened, asked questions and listened for a while longer. I shared the importance of mornings when I carved out an hour for sweating and to get the heart a’pumping, but also to escape phones and to-do lists. During that morning time, I felt open to Creator and creation.
“Isn’t exercise part of your spiritual discipline?” my friend asked. “Why be so hard on yourself? Maybe you need to remember the importance of what you’re already doing.”
Just because I didn’t pray like a Thomas Merton (who had his own dark nights of the soul) or meditate like the Dalai Lama (who probably also struggles) didn’t mean my particular kind of discipline should be disparaged. In simplest terms, my friend reminded me to be me as I sought ways to discern Holy support and encouragement.
Back to the anger.
I wanted to be on my bike. In late autumn, the days are rare when the weather permits a ride. But on that morning I’d had three flat tire tubes. Three! The rear tube had mysteriously flattened since last week’s ride. Grrrr! Changed it. Flat! Changed it again. The third time held no charm: flat again!! Days later at the bicycle shop, the mechanic discovered wrinkled wheel rim tape, sharp as a blade. Its edge stabbed the tube’s thin rubber whenever I started inflating it.
But before the bike repairs, I seethed. I yelled at me. And then I barked at my wife. Not a happy bark like my dog, but a mean human bark. The tire failures caused some old frustration with my beloved wife to burst out (like air from a bad tire?). I’d become a surly, grumbling, three-flats-mad Larry.
So I went for a walk and soon I veered toward the guy sitting in the middle of the lawn. No one would prevent me from my damn route! Not this damn morning! Grrrr!
I drew near; something seemed wrong with his face. So what. Who cares?
“Why in such a hurry?” the sitting guy wondered.
His question startled me. “Exercise,” I growled and increased my stride.
Two steps later he spoke again . . . “Every day is paradise, huh?”
His voice sounded gentle, welcoming. I continued walking. Perhaps a hundred yards later I stopped. Paradise? Today? Was he a nut? A fanatic? I U-turned and, as three-flats-mad Larry, decided to confront him.
He stared at me, apparently unfazed by my return. Now I saw the details of his face. Fresh blood streaked his nose. He had a black eye on the right side and his cheek was swollen. He appeared exhausted. But also alert. He remained seated.
I asked, “What do you mean, paradise?”
“We’re alive,” he said. “Air to breath. Every day can be a good day, huh?”
For another moment or two we chatted. I mentioned my flat tires and he joked about his four children and their bikes and trying to maintain eight bicycle tires. He said he should exercise more like me. He sipped from a diet soda can. The sun warmed the morning. A breeze cooled my sweat. Cars drove in and out of the blood center.
I never asked him about his face. He didn’t volunteer information. Had he fallen? A fight? How bad had his last few hours or days been?
We wished each other well and I continued my journey. I still hurried. I wanted my exercise. And yet I also felt different, just enough, as my anger dissolved into calm.
We’re in Advent’s second week. “Prepare the way of the Lord,” John the Baptist declared. “Make his paths straight.” The Advent messengers—Malachi, Zechariah, John—announce hope.
Not yet, but soon. Not here, but possible. Not seen, but imagined.
What are we hurrying away from or toward? Anger and angst shape our days. Then, unbidden, paradise.
I took a deep breath, and the cool air felt good. Back home, I embraced my wife. She embraced me. At least on that awful, awe-filled morning, as Zechariah hoped, my feet were guided in “the way of peace.”