It is uncomfortable to sit in tension, in the gray area. It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where there are sets of seemingly opposing truths everywhere, existing at the same time, side by side. It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with information and forced to choose sides immediately. It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where no time is given to
wander (or wonder). It seems as if we all move toward our destinations at the fastest speed, taking the shortest route possible. Yet, we need the space that allows for complexity, nuance, confusion, doubt and difference. The gray area is a holy space. Where everything that seems opposite converges and coexists; one does not give way to the other. Different, yet together. It’s messy and complex. Our human brains don’t like it; we want things to be cut and dry — to make everything fit together nicely.
Sunday’s readings immerse us in what does not fit together nicely. Where there is promise of the Lord’s salvation (Isaiah), there is also begging for the Lord to save (Psalms). Where there is the command to be patient in faith (James), there is also doubt and confusion regarding the identity of the one in whom that faith should be grounded (Matthew). The readings for this Sunday show us that the Lord designed us for this holy, messy, uncomfortable space.
We are given multiple examples of how to live in the tension within these passages. The community of Psalm 146 oscillates between asserting God’s goodness and begging for God’s salvation. This is a community rooting itself in God’s promises when those promises have not yet been fully realized. It is a community comforting itself through faith amidst it’s suffering. “The Lord sets captives free,” the psalm states. Immediately following this, we recite the response, “Lord, come and save us.” We can feel the community yearning, as if it is saying “Lord, please, we are begging you. Come now.” We can feel the ache and desperation as well as the immense faith of this community engaging with the tension.
Next, we hear a reading from James. At first glance, it may seem as if what James means by patience is to wait passively for the Lord’s coming. Yet, it is more likely that the author of James, by using the Greek word “μακροθυμέω” or “makrothumeo,” is actually indicating something closer to what we understand to be perseverance — an active and brave patience. A patience that persists and works against injustice, to prepare for the Lord’s coming. James insists that true Christians are to yearn for and expedite the coming of the Lord. To “be patient” is to situate ourselves in the space where the “on it’s way” and the “not yet here” converge. It is to look forward to the coming of the Lord while actively working to create the best conditions for the Lord’s arrival.
In Matthew, we encounter John the Baptist imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, yet confused and disheartened regarding the identity of the one upon whom he centered his entire ministry. John sends his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” John is clearly disappointed with Jesus’ seeming lack of care and action, yet Jesus identifies him as the greatest of those on this side of heaven. John embodies grappling with the tension.
This Advent let us linger in the gray space, in the tension, in the meeting place of the already and the not yet. Let us model the examples in these passages — placing our lives fully in the hands of the Lord, bringing all of our confusion, doubt and disappointment along with us. Let us become familiar with uncomfortability, confusion and tension. Let us, instead of making immediate assumptions and decisions, discern thoughtfully. Let us intentionally struggle within the sacred gray space — listening, learning and encountering that which or whom we initially identify as “other.” As we find ourselves in the tension of this season: waiting for Jesus to come and knowing that Jesus is here, let us allow ourselves to explore the mystery of tension. Maybe, through this, we can find ourselves closer to the One who’s life was a testament to tension, the One who walked this earth as fully human and fully God.
(Sarah Adams is the Social Media coordinator for the Diocese of Davenport.)