Advent and “not knowing”
What frustrates us, bewilders us, and scares us is not knowing. Not knowing why, not knowing how, not knowing when: I don’t know why I didn’t get the job…I don’t know why my relationship ended; I don’t know how to connect with my kids; I don’t know when this grieving will end and life will get back to normal.
I just don’t know.
It keeps us up at night watching the clock…12:01, 12:02, 12:03. It literally keeps us awake.
So perhaps it isn’t coincidental that “not knowing” and “keeping awake” are together in the lectionary reading for the first Sunday in Advent: “Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know…” (Mark 13:35) The two are natural companions.
In this time of Advent we are invited into a place of not knowing that it might keep us awake. But how hard it is for us to wait in a world of not-knowing! How difficult to trust in a future without knowing the details of what is to come though that is precisely what we are called to as people of faith.
Many of us act as though knowing will somehow protect us or make us better people. We act as though knowing enables us to judge who’s in and who’s out, who’s received and who’s swept away, who expresses the face of Christ and who doesn’t. Jesus seems to understand that we favour our certainty. He tells the disciples to be wary of those who claim to know the answers (Mark 13:21), answers that even the Son does not know (Mark 13:32). Effectively, Jesus takes our certainty and breaks it open exposing it for the idol it really is…it just puts us to sleep.
Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know…
And that is a good thing. It’s faithful. It’s Jesus taking our anxiety and discomfort in not-knowing….holding it…then breathing the Spirit into it before giving it back to us with a big red bow. There is a gift in not knowing…it keeps us awake.
Ready and awake for the unexpected, for that unexpected hour. Isn’t that when we’re told Christ will appear? What a marvelous mystery.
How is waiting and not knowing faithful? And how do we hold what we do know lightly that we might be ready for it to be different in an unexpected moment?
Michelle Robinson is a member of the Touchstone Editorial Board and serves Westminster United Church, Whitby, ON. She freely admits that there is a lot she does not know; and she prays for patience in the waiting time.
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