This year, the women’s ministry at my Pennsylvania church published an Advent devotional with written reflections from twenty-nine of our parish women. I was honored to write a reflection for the first Sunday of Advent, and I am so glad to be able to share it here, too.
The following piece appears in Behold, God’s Promises, an Advent devotional from the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, PA. You can download the entire devotional for free here.
Scripture readings for the First Sunday of Advent are from the Daily Office (Year 1) in the Book of Common Prayer: Psalms 146, 147, Isaiah 1:1-9, 2 Peter 3:1-10, Matt. 25:1-13
Peter told us the scoffers would come, but I never imagined they would speak with the voices of my own children.
On the first Sunday of Advent, the six of us gather at the dining room table where our Advent wreath lies ready for us.
My younger son grips the candle snuffer and asks, “Why do we do this every year?”
“To remember Jesus came and will come back again,” I tell him.
“What’s taking so long?!” he says.
His older brother and older sister chime in, “It’s been thousands of years!” Their baby sister echoes, “Thousands!”
My children, like those scoffers Peter warned against, believe “everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” Day follows day like a soothing lullaby until we, like virgins waiting with our lamps, drift complacently to sleep.
Even my oldest child cannot remember a day beyond twelve years ago, and yet how confident they are life will go on always the same.
I look at their faces and remember well those years when there were no children in my home. I cried for children and prayed for children and witnessed four times the power of God to change everything. Like Mary before me, I sing, “… the Mighty One has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49).
In a moment the world is changed utterly.
In a moment our ordinary is shattered by joy.
If a voice in our culture, or our home, or even our own heart says, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” do not listen and despair. With every turning of this planet, with every setting of the sun, with every swish of the calendar page, we are nearer.
This Advent season we are nearer.
Prayer: Dear Father, wake us for this Advent journey. You, our bridegroom, have been a long time in coming, and we do grow weary. Remind us of your nearness and impress on our hearts the reality of your return. Make us ready to welcome you. Amen.
You were a child, and they wanted only the best for you. So they told you your heart was deceitful. They told you that every desire was only a misplaced desire for Him.
They spoke the (partial) truth in love, and you took their words to heart. Those words kept you safe. They kept you on a narrow way, and you will always be grateful for that.
But Jesus never promised safety; He promised abundance. The abundant life is a wide-awake life, and it is anything but safe.
Infertility was unexpected. It was a hammer blow to your heart, and when your heart cracked open something precious and dangerous slipped out.
First one and then one more. And just when you thought that was all, convinced you’d closed the box up tight, even more would come leaking out. We were made to be deep water, but you were terrified when you first glimpsed the depths of your desiring self.
You wanted, and you wanted fiercely. You wanted a baby of your own. And when that miracle baby was born you asked for more.
There are three things that are never satisfied, / four that never say, ‘Enough!’: / the grave, the barren womb, / land, which is never satisfied with water, / and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ (Proverbs 30:16).
Babies were only the beginning. You wanted to earn that PhD. You wanted to live in the big city. You wanted to read poetry on green Irish cliffs.
You wanted to live a life that mattered. You wanted to create. You wanted to be loved.
Fiery desire had been unleashed. You held your hands to the flames, and you were consumed.
God gave you the babies. God gave you the degree. God gave you poetry in Ireland, and God gave you love.
But God wanted to give you more. So He took you to the wilderness.
You cried every day for two years, Lord I want to go home. Lord I have no home. Lord I want to go home. Please, oh please, take me home.
When God led you through the desert to the farmhouse on the hill, you heard again the message given by those well-meaning Christians all those years ago.
It is true that all desire is misleading.
Desire isn’t necessarily wrong (though it might be). It isn’t necessarily sinful (though it might be). Desire is misleading because, if God-given, it leads you somewhere unexpected.
The babies bring joy, but they grow so quickly and every day they slip just a little further from your arms. The PhD sharpened you, but it didn’t provide the career you imagined. The house is a dream-come-true, the garden is your canvas, but the work is relentless and you do not have what it takes.
Those things do not satisfy completely but wanting them was never wrong. Those dreams were planted in you by God himself and in reaching for them you found something better – someone better – than any dream-come-true.
Sitting in the deep recess of the old parlor window, you notice the snow beginning to dust your hilltop. Stepping outside, snowflakes tap-dancing on your cheeks, you feel a great longing well up in your heart.
This is a familiar feeling. For years, you could see some clear thing whenever you felt it. A child. Or an accomplishment. Or a garden of your own. But you have come home and what is there left to want? What is the object of this longing and where will it lead?
Perhaps the snowflakes blur your vision just enough to help you see. Because it is here – in the snow on the hilltop – that you finally glimpse the truth. Yes, the farmhouse on the hill is a gift, God-given, but it is only the shadow of your true home.
Now you understand that God is, that he has always been, leading you home to himself.
I believe in stories more than advice. In other words, I believe that a light is shined on our way forward, not when we finally hear the exact, right piece of advice, but when someone shares their story with us.
True stories contain all of the messy, untranslateable details of a life. Somehow, they also point us toward the maker of life.
I wish I could tell you how to live without the kind of community I described earlier this week. I wish I could tell you how to get it back. I even wish I could tell you that developing that kind of community in your own setting is the most important use of your time. But I can’t tell you these things.
If this whole Jesus-following-way-of-life is truly a relationship (as I’ve been hearing all my life) then we need to stop comparing our circumstances with everyone else’s. My marriage to Jonathan is fifteen-years-old (or fifteen-years-good), and it makes no sense for me to look at those still-awkward newlyweds and wonder why our lives are so different. Other than the fruits of the spirit, I’m not sure there are many things we can point to in order to say “that is a good Christian life” and “that is not.” At times Jesus walks us through joy and other times he walks us through trouble, but we can be confident in both that he has not and will not abandon us.
I lived in community for ten years, and it was good and it was painful, and I hope I haven’t said goodbye to that way of life forever. I could beat my head against my Bible wondering why my life no longer looks like that and how to get it back, or I can accept that when God empties our lives he also fills them up again. Not with the things we are missing, necessarily, but with himself.
In this world, we are wanderers. And that is not always a bad thing, not always a sin thing. We can wander quite a distance pursuing the good things of God’s kingdom on earth. Still, there’s little rest in wandering, and God knows we need rest. But where to find it?
God’s people “wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place” (Jeremiah 50:6).
Sometimes we need silence and emptiness, loneliness and barrenness in order to remember. We need winter.
The four walls of my suburban existence can feel like a prison, but they have been just the thing for feeling the heavy, holy pressure of God’s hand on me.
“You hem me in – behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
Psalm 139: 5-6
Christie Purifoy is a writer, a reader, a wife, and a mother. She declines to order those roles according to their importance but does admit to occasionally feeding her children cold cereal for dinner so that she can read just one more chapter.
In 2010, she received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago and has taught literature and composition to undergraduates at the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute, Chicago, and the University of North Florida.
She considers her three children to be walking, talking (and, too often, whiny, arguing) embodiments of God’s good love. She describes her experience with Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome and infertility in a memoir, Moonlight in Winter. This is a story of how God draws near when we are in pain. It is written for men and women, married and single, parents or not. It is written for everyone who has ever asked, “Where is God when I hurt?”
Christie believes that God is writing a love story for every person who follows Him. Her own life has been a journey of love, but it is through pain that the story of this love has been revealed.