The writer E. L. Doctorow once described his art like this: he said, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your own headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” This has been the image I keep in mind for Advent. Our narrative is still unfolding. God’s work in the world is still unfolding. But we can only live it day by day. I know for me when times are harder and I feel tired and cranky, sometimes the best prayer I can muster is “God, are we there yet?”
Once as a kid I was travelling somewhere with my cousins and my uncle Buz was driving us. Our destination wasn’t more than an hour away but, I’m sure as soon as we hit the highway, we started the litany of “are we there yets”. Finally my Uncle had enough. “Did you know every time you ask if we’re they’re yet, you’re actually adding 10 minutes to the trip?” Silence.
I’m pretty sure that it’s in that same line of thinking that the church decided to relegate Advent to these four weeks before Christmas. Get it out of our system.
So? I’ll ask it this Sunday: Are we there yet? Like the church answers a lot of questions, our answer here is one of paradox and mystery. Yes and no. Yes, Jesus has already come and no, he hasn’t come again. Already, but not yet. We’re almost there, but we’ve just gotten started.
There once was a Christ shaped hole in our world, a savior needed for God’s lost people. That hole was first filled when an angel visited a young virgin and she uttered what I believe to be the two most courageous sentences a human can speak: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” If you listen today, two millennia later, you can still hear the echo of that young woman’s words.
And still today, we find ourselves continually faced with Christ-shaped holes in the world. It took a lot of nerve to bring the prince of peace into the world the first time- why should it be any different this time around. I’ve lately become convinced that God chose Mary not despite the fact that she was so young, but because she was so young. Have you hung out with any young teenagers lately? They can be chock full of nerve. Just enough to say crazy things like “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Adults aren’t completely hopeless here. We just have to pay attention and muster up that courage that we forgot we had. If we pay attention, there are still many Christ shaped holes in this world that God calls each of us to fill.
I don’t know if this is just me, but because I grew up in this tradition, I developed a certain Pavlovian response to the advent wreath in church. I see these four lit candles and somewhere in me is a child beaming with joy about what the near future holds. And most appropriately, the gospel mirrors this excitement. We remember that time when the world was literally pregnant with the Son of God. We can end our litany of worrying “are we there yet?” They’ll soon give way to awe that made us wonder why we ever worried in the first place. We may only see as far as our headlights let us, but we can make the whole trip that way. AMEN.