I’ve said it before: I am a person who loves tradition. And no time of year is so loaded with cultural and faith traditions than this holiday season at the end of the calendar year, traditions like the singing of Handel’s Messiah and the lighting of the Advent wreath candles (although many of these “traditions” are not so timeless as the marketing geniuses would have us believe — Thanksgiving dating from the Roosevelt administration and our current vision of Santa Clause coming from a Coca-Cola advertisement in the 1930’s).
You can read our passage for today in that mindset — that of honoring tradition, honoring the “great cloud of witnesses”. But if you read it instead in the spirit of the Hebrew word zakar (to remember) that we talked about yesterday, the power of the possibility in the text sparks to life:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
And so my seasonal dilemma continues: embrace tradition and sit in a waiting mindset for what I know is already here, or embrace that peace and “lay aside every weight…looking to Jesus”.
For much of my life, I have used action to drive away doubt. I have often lived my days by sheer force of will. That ability to simply push through whatever sits in my path has been lost to me these past few months and may never return. And yet, I cannot seem to embrace the attitude of watchful waiting that comes as one of the rituals of this season of Advent.
Jesus did not wait. He did what he needed to do according to his role in the drama before him. Paul did not wait — if there had been frequent traveler miles in his day, he would have been far ahead of even me. And yet it seems that each of them had a quiet, calm center to their actions. That is what I seek this Advent — that balance between action and knowing, the balance of tension among the tradition of the past, the reality of now, and the potential of the future.
Too much to ask? Maybe, with my human limitations. But if you ask what I seek this season, that is my answer. Not the child in the manger, not the star overhead, not presents, not family, not anything I would have answered at any time before.
A different kind of Advent. A different kind of life. A different understanding of the light and the dark.
Peace, I think, is what they call it. May you find it as well.