This Advent, the readings that have caught my attention really call me to attention about how I respond to things that are new and different and outside of my “normal” experience in life.
Thinking about what Jesus’ coming means to the world, I am reminded of a story my friend once told. First, does everyone remember dial-up internet? When it would connect to your computer, the way it would sound, lots of dings, static, dongs, that khhhh noise?
My friend used to work as a telephone operator. When internet started being put into people’s homes, she would tell them, you are going to hear something completely new – do not be alarmed, it is supposed to sound strange, but it will connect you to the world wide web.
This is my understanding of what Christmas is calling me to this year – when Jesus came into this world, he did not come in a way anyone would expect. He did not enter in a clean, everything-in-order, powerful way. He came as a baby, born into an unwed couple, who were refugees fleeing from the violence of Herod killing all young boys, in the middle of the night, in a stable, there right in the midst of the cows and sheep. And I think the angel’s song that night to the shepherds might have resembled what my friend told people over the operator line: “You are going to hear something completely new – do not be alarmed, it is supposed to sound a bit strange, but he will connect you to the world in an entirely new and wonderful way.”
I had the privilege of living as an overseas volunteer in Uganda, in Eastern Africa. One of the privileges of my having that experience is that when I entered into such a different culture, I did not expect to hear things I already knew or see things I normally saw. I did not expect to understand much of anything. So, when I expect to be surprised by newness, to be graced by something never before understood to me, most things appear as a blessing, appear as something being touched by God, and I tend to have more space in my heart for them. Sometimes that went smoothly, other times not as much.
One day, I was taking an afternoon off, and went into the closest town to our village. As I was walking down the street, some street children began following me closely, more closely than I felt comfortable. They were asking me for things and making jokes in the local language. I turned around and said, "Abaana, muvaio!" – Children, move back, you are too close! They all stopped and stared at me with their eyes wide open, then erupted into laughter. One boy, who I later learned his name is Moses, started asking me how I knew their language, and to my surprise, invited me to sit and talk with them. We spent the next hour talking and laughing and learning. In response to my not very kind, judgmental, and frankly a bit fearful response to them, I did not expect to hear an invitation. I did not expect to gain new friends who I visited each time I went into town thereafter. Yet I was connected to the world, to myself, and to God in an entirely new and wonderful way.
When God came to Earth, he came as a human, a part of daily normal life. When I remind myself that I am still in mission in my normal daily life; I am still called to be a missionary disciple even when I am back here in the United States, I feel challenged to recall that the invitation to encounter and share the journey may come from someone who is not powerful, who doesn’t fit my ideas of a “leader” or “world-changer,” and who might defy my ideas of culture. I recall that I am called to leave judgment aside, and to listen with open ears, see with eyes of newness, and feel with a heart open to God. I invite you to join me in asking ourselves, as Pope Francis asks, "Are we open to Gods surprises? Or are we closed and fearful before the newness of the Holy Spirit? Do we have the courage to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us?"