Friday, November 30, 2018 - Updated: 3:08 pm
One proof of Christian discipleship resides in our commitment to be countercultural. The four weeks of Advent provide a marvelous opportunity to practice a spiritual discipline, represented in many facets of the Christmas story, that goes counter to cultural expectations: choosing to walk.
From a secular point of view, the month before we celebrate the event of Christ’s birth could be comparable to a marathon.
We run to the mall. We have a running list of things to do. We cut phone calls short with the sentence, “Sorry, I’ve got to run.” The clock runs out on us. We need to run over to “Grandma’s house.” We run to church so we have time to run home and wrap more gifts.
The countercultural choice we ought to consider (to walk and not run) consists of devoting the first week of Advent to meditating on this description of the essence of the law in Deuteronomy 10:12-13:
“So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you?
“Only to fear the Lord our God, to walk in his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.” (italics mine)
To walk in the Lord’s ways is a simple, uncomplicated endeavor for believers. All that is required of us this week is to slow down.
Quiet yourself the first moment you wake up and thank God for the day. Promise God that you will walk, not run, through the store when you shop. Remember to thank God for the abundance of goods around you.
Make a point of conversing slowly enough to hear what others have to say. Don’t interrupt them and rush away to tick off the next items on your agenda. Live the commandment to love your neighbor as you love yourself.
At day’s end take time to go for a walk around your yard or your block with God as your companion. Tell your Lord how much you love and trust him to keep your well-being always on his heart, however many challenges you have to face.
Spend the second week of Advent with the Good Shepherd and recall daily Psalm 23:4:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.” (italics mine)
Ironically, during this season devoted to joyful songs and strings of lights, to evergreens and beautifully wrapped gifts, there is also a statistical rise in depression and suicidal rates. If not for ourselves, then for others, let us beseech the shepherd of all souls to give us comfort in the darkest hours.
Think of how difficult it must be for a family to celebrate the birth of Jesus in a funeral parlor. Death does not follow our timetable, yet God is Emmanuel, God-with-us, when we feel most alone.
By devoting this second week of Advent to the Good Shepherd, we, too, may become comforters at Christmas. Caregiving may be the most blessed gift we will ever bestow.
The third week in this season of waiting upon the coming of the Lord leads us to these revelatory words in St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:6-7):
“So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (italics mine)
Complementing the Lenten season that ends with the resurrection of the Lord is the Advent season that marks the beginning of his saving mission on earth. It takes two leaps of faith for us to enter into the fullness of discipleship: to believe that Christ died and rose on the third day, and to believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
To walk in faith never means that we will fully understand the mystery of his coming among us nor the mystery of his dying and rising for us. We do not and we cannot see how this is possible, and yet we believe.
Symbols of his coming surround us in this season — especially manger scenes — but they are finite reminders of the fullness of intimacy with the Trinity that shall be ours in the life to come. Perhaps this is the week to say in your car, at the office, in crowded stores, “Jesus, I believe in you. Jesus, I trust you. Jesus, I long someday to see you face to face.”
The fourth week of Advent culminates with our anticipation of the Incarnation and all that led up to this awesome event in the fullness of time.
With his pregnant wife mounted on a donkey, Joseph walked from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register his family according to the law (Luke 2:3-4). When they arrived, there was no place for them at the inn, so Mary and Joseph walked to a nearby stable where Jesus was born.
Shepherds watching in the fields walked to pay homage to the newborn Messiah announced by the angels (Luke 2:13-14). Three Wise Men walked from the East to Bethlehem, following a star, and presented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11-12). Then they left for their home country by another road to foil the devious request of King Herod.
Before Jesus was born, Mary walked to the hill country to visit her pregnant cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39). After the birth of Jesus, to escape Herod’s wrath, Joseph and Mary took their child on a long walk to safety in Egypt, and there they remained until the king’s death (Matthew 2:13).
Let all of these walks remain in your mind’s eye during this fourth week of Advent. Let us draw upon them to help us slow down. Open the door of your car instead of jumping into it. Cook a meal instead of throwing something together. Say “Merry Christmas” and mean it. Sing with the prophet Isaiah, “… come, let us walk in the light of the Lord! (2:5) and don’t ever be discouraged, for:
“… Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).
Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.