I still carry an image in my mind from elementary school. Most every day we would gather on the school yard or gymnasium and pick teams for some game we were about to play. Everyone would line up along the fence or wall and two captains would start picking teams. The first captain would pick one person, then the second, back and forth until everyone was on a team. The image I still carry is those last two people standing there waiting to be picked and then the very last one all alone. It still hurts a little in my heart to imagine being the last one picked.
I was always pretty good at sports so I never was that last kid against the fence but I still feel tender about such a scene. Maybe that’s because there were other venues in which I was chosen last. Or maybe we all just have a deep-seated fear of being left out or abandoned altogether.
While we decorate our homes and get excited about the gifts we are getting for others or might receive ourselves, while we prepare for family reunions and seeing loved ones we haven’t been with in a while, we hear in Advent lessons about the end of time when this world will fall away and the heavenly kingdom will intervene. Amidst the warm joy of the season, those fears of being left out or abandoned often arise during Advent. The Church even seems to encourage such deep ponderings. Be awake and alert, we are told repeatedly, for you do not know when the householder will come.
In Advent we’re told to get ready for the coming of the Christ child and the second coming of Christ. It’s a season of preparation and it calls up fears in all of us. On Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent we read three brief verses from Matthew in the Eucharist (Mt. 18:12-14). “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray….” We know how the story ends. The shepherd goes out searching for the one lost sheep until the sheep is found and then there is much rejoicing. The shepherd’s heart goes out to the one sheep just as mine goes out to the last kid standing at the fence.
Right in the middle of a scary and dangerous world where terrorists threaten safety and order, where the powerful lie and abuse and molest, where depression and grief seem so dark, there is a compassion woven into the fabric of creation. Those who are hurting and lost are sought out. And found. And brought into the family. All are loved.
Advent gives us the opportunity to feel those fears of abandonment and receive into our hearts the truth that with Christ those fears are healed. To acknowledge a fear and then to have that fear relieved leaves me in a more faithful position than had I never felt the fear to begin with. While I try to avoid fear, the better news of the season is that fears are met with love and compassion. As I fear being left out of all that is good, to then come to know I am embraced and welcomed is to feel God’s loving presence.
We perhaps fear the return of Christ as a warrior who will slash and slay. The first coming of Christ surely indicates what the second coming will be. Christ comes as a child, an infant, a vulnerable being who embodies hope and tenderness. I also carry an image of our daughter as a toddler wobbling up to a grumpy old priest at a clergy conference. As I felt fear for the rejection my daughter was about to be subjected to, that grumpy old priest pulled Meg onto his lap and began bouncing her on his knee. There’s something about a child that can bring out love in the meanest of people.
The love of Christ eases into our worlds gently to soothe and assure us, breaks into our worlds to correct our fears of abandonment. The preparation we are called to do in Advent is to prepare for the loving presence of God in our lives. The Christ who embraced suffering and absorbed the sins of the world began as an infant being held and loved, a toddler disarming the cruel and hateful, a small child embodying the great love of God being born anew each and every moment.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.