Advent in an Age of Anger
Advent is a time of waiting. Traditionally, the weeks before Christmas have been a time of “living into” the story of waiting for God, waiting for Him to appear in human flesh and being born as a baby. The discipline of waiting to celebrate is a significant spiritual practice because it mirrors real life. More often than not, in our lives, we experience loss and grief, and waiting is a part of the reality. We wait for healing. We wait for the right person to come along. We wait through the pain of a miscarriage. We wait. We wait. We wait. The Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, expresses beautifully the discipline of waiting as we pleadingly sing the word “come” over and over. And, the name Emmanuel (translated as “God with us”) perfectly describes the truest, deepest longing of our hearts … to experience God’s presence in our lives no matter the current situation.
When we don’t know how to wait, we are cut off from reaching down deep into our hearts to discover what it is we truly desire. The discipline of waiting in Advent has largely been preempted by starting to celebrate Christmas as soon as possible. Often, Christmas decorations are sold next to decorations for Halloween.
I’m not interested in criticizing the larger culture because we all have choices to make in terms of how we interact with the world around us. I am more interested in the inward look that asks what is going on in my own soul.
We want what we want when we want it. Right? We might try to over-spiritualize things and pretend that we don’t struggle with instant gratification and that we are content moment to moment, but do you ever get angry?
We live in an age of anger. Outrage is all the rage. We react and over-react as we encounter our world rather than stopping, noticing, and responding in love. Again, take an inward look and ask: do I ever get angry?
It might be something as simple as getting angry while driving or as frustrating as yelling at your daughter because she once again left dirty dishes on the counter for someone else to clean. Or, it could be that we are feeling anger as we look at the political climate in our country. Whether seemingly big or small, anger is a clear indicator that we want what we want when we want it!
The poet David Whyte penned these words about anger: “Anger is the deepest form of compassion. For another, for the world, for the self, and for all our ideals. All vulnerable and all possibly about to be hurt.”
Anger and compassion? What Whyte is getting at is that we get angry about what we love. One of the benefits of paying attention to our anger is that we can get insight into what we love, what is important to us.
So, as you feel anger, consider it an invitation to reflection: what is it that I am loving right now? And, is that love out of proportion to the circumstance? Is it out of proportion with other things that I love? For example, I may love a clean kitchen with dishes put away but do I love that more than my daughter?
And, as you experience anger, practice the discipline of waiting. Most often, our anger arises from unmet expectations and a longing for more than our present experience affords. Reflect on these questions: what I am expecting? Could there be more to the story? If I wait, might more be revealed than I am presently seeing?
The decision to wait and reflect when experiencing anger will only become a practice with intention. Let the waiting and reflecting be prayerful. Go to God. Express your anger to Him. He not only can handle it, He can transform it. As we express our anger in prayer, in the presence of the Almighty who is love, we begin to see with His eyes.
Psalm 13:3, “Consider me and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.”
An early church father, Denys the Areopagite, suggested that it works like this: we “picture ourselves aboard a boat. There are ropes joining it to some rock. We take hold of the rope and pull on it as if we were trying to drag the rock to us when in fact we are hauling ourselves and our boat toward that rock.”
As we go to God in prayer with our anger, waiting and reflecting, our anger can be transformed. We are reminded that what our hearts long for is the one who is pure love. When our loves are impure or incomplete, we can become demanding and angry but when we love what He loves, we become patient and accepting. We are able to accept “what is” in love rather than demand “what isn’t” in anger.
God is and He never changes. When we throw our ropes around Him, we are drawn into a love that can never diminish or be taken away. (Romans 8:31-39)
The message of the Advent and then Christmas season is that God is with us. He companions us and never leaves us or forsakes us. Feeling anger? Are you loving and valuing and treasuring the God who is with you or demanding something more or different? He is enough, actually more than enough, to satisfy the deepest longings of our soul. To stop and wait and reflect and pray can be a huge act of faith in this age of anger.
*Blog post inspired by a sermon delivered by Rev. Jim Clark at Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church in Paradise Valley, Arizona.