Where to Begin

When the Ending is Just the Beginning

When I started, it was clear what I should write for this devotion. Like all good procrastinators I did not write anything down. It was raw and emotional, and though that makes for great content, it needed to settle. So, I began again from a place still filled with emotion and rawness, but more medium rare. How does this start to tie in with Advent?

The vibrant colors on the trees as they change and prepare for the coming winter reminds people to look up and to notice what is around them. Though Advent comes near the end of a year, it also marks the preparation and planning (or obsessive social media posts on resolutions) for the coming year. Advent starts a few weeks after my birthday and has always played the role of keeping me in a reflective space as I celebrate ending one year with gratitude and thankfulness to see another year start. Advent, this time of reflection, allows me space to remind myself of how much I have grown, changed, and to let go as the days passed by. As we prepare for this particular Advent, it is filled to the brim of things to reflect on beyond our personal lives. We have been constantly bombarded over the past decades with acts of violence against children, persons of color, and those who are not Christian, especially our Muslim siblings. As I am writing, our own government is still in a state of imbalance and confusion and the governments of Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Palestine are engaged in war, as the media ignores events happening around Africa. Who knows what else or where else in the world something might happen! We have had major natural disasters across the globe, the next phase of covid continues to mutate and cause sickness and death to families and their communities. It seems as if the end is near, and yet, we know this is the best place to start. When it all seems like it is falling apart, this is the place where something new emerges. Where engagement and deep reflection and honesty take over, and we let go, trusting and allowing the pieces to shake out as it will.

This is the beginning. We have tried to make the end of the year sound sweet and peaceful. Colorful with decorations and utopia-like acts of kindness and harmony. However, the ending months of holidays in our modern time have been anything but slow paced, calm, with time for reflection or intentional planning. This time of year has turned into trying to outdo each other in gift giving, while holding on to past bitterness and anger towards those we say we love. We speed up our daily activities just to say with bragging and much complaint, that we did it all, when others ask us to reflect on how we enjoyed the holidays!  So what if this Advent, we intentionally do it differently? Instead of preparing ourselves for the end to the holidays, where we end up tired and upset by the minute things that went wrong, or because we did not get the gift we really wanted, we take this time to really prepare our own selves for the reason and meaning of Jesus’ birth.

How? By focusing on how the Bible has called us to be as Christians, loving. From Leviticus 19:18 to Mark 12:28-34 and Matthew 22:37-40, accounts of Jesus’ parables, we are commanded to, “love our neighbors as ourselves” which is an intentional shift of looking inward and outward with a sense of grace and compassion. Instead of allowing our minds and personal feelings to get too involved in our decision making, we seek wisdom from God instead; and we actually listen. I am not asking you to ignore hurt and pain. I am asking you to look inward and see the pain of those moments as an invitation to a new beginning for yourself and how you move outwardly. It has become far too easy to be numb not only to what is going on around you, but what you are feeling personally in relation to or to acknowledge you are triggered by the event. I believe there is a time for anger and outrage and there is a time for forgiveness and acceptance. However, acceptance is not one sided. It comes with compromise and understanding from both sides. When we ask ourselves, “why is this thing still happening” we are stating the need for others to join in with us in creating a new way forward from that thing which is causing pain. We use the devastation as a clarion call to look inward and outward for the solution.

It seems that in each year time speeds up as if the universe itself is ready for us to get on with it and not linger too long. We time our meditations and leave our sick days and vacations more hurried than when we left. The Bible has countless scriptures inviting us to reflect and rest, however, we would rather look at social media posts and react to the latest celebrity death, due to unspoken mental ill-health, before we initiate with what our bodies and minds have been calling to us to do all along which is to seek healing. We are hanging on by the merest of threads, and yet, there is still hope. We are just getting started if we look hard for that tiny glimmer of possibility that shows up and shines bright to pull us from the edge of despair. That call from a friend, that deep laugh that made you cry, that loss that led you to reflect in gratitude, that sheer pain that reminded you of your humanity. All these moments and more are a starting point – an advent moment to look forward to what is to come next. So where exactly do we begin?

When the sky was at its darkest, and the threat of death loomed heavy in the air thick enough to tighten the throat with each breath, Mary and Joseph set out, destination…known? The direction was clear, but the end point and the ending were shrouded by the events and the politics causing them to make this journey to be registered amongst their family.  They followed the brightest light provided to them by the heavens above. Led by prophecy and hope, they, Mary in the depths of her pregnancy, and Joseph, set out to follow the order, the rules governed to them by their political leaders. During their journey, they were caught between the joy of seeing their son born, casting hope and belief into what had been proclaimed to them months before, and the sudden fear in the unknown by having to change the direction of their journey because the birth of their child threatened the powers that be. How often do we journey out only to be forced to change course mid route? The story of the events of Jesus’ birth is short and condensed, but the layers upon which circumstances unfolded allow us to see how what seems like the end, is really just the beginning. (Read Luke 2:1-21 or Matthew 1:18-2:12).

Take a few minutes for reflection:

  1. When has my course been rerouted? What led to the redirection? How did it make me feel?
  2. What have I learned over time about myself when things go differently than I expected?
  3. What threatens my peace right now? How have I contributed to allowing my peace to be threatened?
  4. What actions do I need to take to change my outlook when things look dire or at its end?

I do not know how clear your path has been lately, but I can attest to the power of a tiny light giving the brightest and clearest way forward. As I stated earlier, this time of year for me is often very reflective. I begin to recount my movements from January through the summer days. Death has been a theme for me and my family since August. These recent deaths blend with the anniversaries of past deaths that occurred just a few years prior. This marked change, the movement from life to death, are not solely reflection moments, they are redirections. I have heard it said that grief can happen not only between a person, but also between you and a thing. So, when we grieve we must reflect on our relationship to that person or to that thing. These times of loss propels us into a new way of being and doing. A new way of thinking and acting. As we gather in community or sit in quiet alone this advent season, what are we grieving during this time of celebration? How has that person or thing we lost changed us for the better? How is this loss inviting us to change direction and start something new?

Melva Lowry is an ordained Ruling Elder. She is currently the Development Communications Coordinator for The Common Place Philly. Melva has served the PCUSA in many capacities from Hands and Feet Fellow to working in Camp and Conference Ministries at Massanetta Springs, including writing for many of our publications. Yes, Jerrod Lowry is her brother!

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