“They should make a postage stamp with him on it,” one guy told us at his wake. “I owe him everything,” said another. “He believed in me. He changed my life.” This is from a column in the December 4, 2015 issue of Commonweal magazine, entitled “Keeping the Books, Owen McGowan, RIP” by regular contributor Jo McGowan. These are words that were said about her father Owen, who died in August, and they reveal a moving tribute to a great man. I was particularly struck by the sentence, “He believed in me. He changed my life.” It reminded me of Jesus, the one we await this and every Advent.
Not long after reading the column, I opened an email from a friend who does the work of the saints – she teaches at an inner city elementary school. The email contained a link to a video that I present in this link. By the way, I can only share the link, I can’t get the video to embed. It will give you a pop up saying that if you are not signed into your TWC account, you can only view a limited number of videos; just click watch video and it will bring you to the site.) In any case, if you did not or could not watch the video, the story is about an after school mentoring program at the school where my friend works. My friend is Christine Hannan, and she is in the video. The program pairs adults with kids for five years, helping them to learn how to read. The story blew me away. Five years is a long time for a person to give, but imagine what that may yield! Not only does the child have help with reading, but the child also forms a powerful and consistent bond with an adult who is focused on them. In the end, I was reminded of the power of what happens when people believe in us.
If there was any doubt of God’s belief in humanity, the incarnation of Christ, born as a vulnerable infant in challenging circumstances should have clarified the obvious. However, many still struggle – whether they don’t believe that God believes in them, and in daily life, that no one believes in them.
In Advent we are called to this quiet waiting, and every year it can become more challenging. For example, consider this:
Two things immediately spring to mind, well – immediately after I shake the creepy Orwellian doom feeling out of myself. One is that our capacity as humans for waiting is at this point grows ever more culturally eliminated. The second is that it is no wonder so few people believe in God. Why bother when if you are in a position to have all the economic wherewithal to access the mighty drone wonder, who needs to pray? Pfffft! Jesus may be shoved aside by the brilliance of Jeff Bezos and his never ending desire to reinvent the world. That is not always a bad thing… but, just think about how his ingenuity can steal our attention from others – and from God. People worry about our president making himself into some all powerful king? No worries there, Bezos seems to move forth with that with almost no scrutiny. But I digress! I am not here to pick on a rich and powerful man who can fulfill your every dream. He can spur on the economy and fulfill your dreams very well – long as you can pay, that is.
Anyway, my point being – if we can have our material goods delivered by drone, who needs to pray, when one can simply pay? Why wait, when immediacy is a click or two away? And why bother waiting for God who will soon appear as a baby, when due to your frustration boils over not being able to afford the goods or the cost of the drone flight? There are many barriers to God in the material world, but the material world is where we are, as we watch and wait for the very incarnation who wishes to join us here. Jesus comes into the world, illuminating the darkness. He does not to eliminate our every problem or pain, but he is here be one with us in it.
Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, Jesus believes in you. The act of believing, having faith and hope in another is a vital step on the pilgrimage of Advent, as well as the pilgrimage of life. With faith and hope in Christ Jesus in his one of his least powerful looking forms, as a child, we see a new light that guides us on new paths. We must find ways to twin waiting and belief, fueled always by the One who believes in us, and who in great mercy – waits for us, as we wait for him.
As we go forth today, maybe we can bring a little light into the darkness by doing what we learned about Owen McGowan doing in the first paragraph – believing in someone. Today, may we come to know more deeply, that someone believes in us.
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