Dear Friends in Christ,

I bet you know the feeling – you run into Giant Eagle on a Saturday afternoon to pick up a quart of milk, and when you hit the registers, the lines are ten deep. Two of the self-checkout lanes are down, but you manage to find the one with only six people in front of you. They have baskets, not carts. And not too many items. You are thinking you will be out in less than ten minutes.

But you hadn't figured on the guy whose two little boys want to scan everything themselves, and playing referee, he makes them take turns. Or the guy after him who wants cigarettes. Or the next lady who is in an animated conversation on her cell phone and needs her scanning hand to gesture while she talks. Or the man in shabby work clothes just in front of you, who has trouble reading the screen and pushing the buttons, and then pays for an $18 purchase with cash, which he carefully feeds into the machine, one dollar bill at a time.

This actually happened to me. Last Saturday. The eve of the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the season of waiting.

I didn't get the joke until I was in the parking lot. Then I sat in my car for a few minutes and took an inventory of my soul.

It was not pretty. In twenty minutes, I had concocted a stew of fuming impatience, uncharity, self-importance, and gloom. The taste of it was still in my mouth. And for what? Where did I need to be so urgently? What was at stake, except my own convenience, my sense of being in control?

The gift of Advent is the extended, deliberate gift of waiting – not as the absence of activity, but as an attentive and passionate re-orientation of the soul toward the One Who Is To Come, toward the Christ. Every passing second is potentially a doorway for prayer that leads into the twin mystery of the Savior's Advent, bringing us simultaneously before the manger and the throne, filling our ears with the Baby's cry and the archangel's trumpet, the sweetness and the terror flooding us, both at once.

Before we get too excited by this, let us not misunderstand. This doorway is not for you to go out, as if you were entering an exotic land, your own personal Narnia. The doorway is for Him to come in. You are not entering His world. He is entering yours.

Jesus makes this stunningly clear in the first Gospel of Advent, the little parable of the master who goes away, leaving his servants in charge and commanding the doorkeeper to keep awake, to open the door when the Master comes (Mk 13: 24-37). In the end, that Advent will be the sudden fulfillment of all things, indescribable in its power and majesty. What if the imminent prospect of that glory were always in the background of what we did and said and heard, like the opening chord of a great symphony we could not forget?

And our waiting in the meantime is to be filled with attention, from moment to moment, to each way in which the Christ is coming to us now. But how will we know Him when we see Him?

Let us think this through. The Gospel of John says, For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (Jn 3:16). And in the next verse, John emphasizes God's motives: For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved (Jn 3:17). The Orthodox liturgy puts it beautifully: For He is gracious and merciful, and He loves humankind.

So the Christ comes to us because He loves us and longs for us. And in the same way, He asks us to love and long for Him.

But we cannot do this in the abstract. The First Letter of John paints it clearly: How can you possibly love God, whom you have not seen, if you do not love your brother, whom you can see? (1 Jn 4:20). Or as Matthew writes, Whatever you did (or failed to do) to the least of these, you did (or failed to do) to me (Mt. 25:40,45).

So if I put it all together, the challenge and the opportunity of Advent run something like this:

I, like you, am a doorkeeper in the Master's house, and that door can be anywhere – at work, on the T, in a traffic jam, even at Giant Eagle. And the present time is a succession of little Advents that are rehearsals for the Great Advent that is to come. And every person who enters my sphere is a visitation of the Christ – the choice is mine, whether I choose to see Him and love Him or not.

And once that becomes clear, I find my impatience quickly turns to prayer, as I meditate on the icon of each life in front of me. In my recollection, I pray for the agitation of the lady on the cell phone and the addiction of the man who asks for cigarettes. I give thanks for the calm affection of the father who turns a checkout lane into a lesson in teamwork for his sons, and hold in my prayer, as very dear before God, the man who must pay for his groceries with one dollar bills. And I ask for a humble heart and presence of mind next time, that God would show me, in addition to my prayer, what I might do or say for any of them that might communicate even a glimmer of His love.

Living like this would be, after all, just normal Christian life, but Advent is a good time to begin to try that on again, knowing that in each such prayer and word and act we are joyfully opening the door to the One who loves us, saying Master! Welcome home!

May this season be full of Christ's blessings for you and those you love.

Faithfully your bishop, 
 
(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey W.M. McConnell, D.D.

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