“Coming.” It’s a one-word sentence we speak, sometimes on the run, in answer to a knock on the door, or someone saying our name, needing to know where we are and if we’ll attend to them for something beyond their reach. Something they can’t get or accomplish alone. It’s what we say in response to another one-word sentence, “help.” I sometimes say “coming” to my cats, even though they don’t speak English.
“Coming” is short for “I’m on my way,” and “will be there” in a moment, an hour, a day, at some point in the future, near or far. It’s essentially what the Wise Men said when they saw the star, as the story goes. They said it with their bodies and their frankincense and myrrh, leaving home for parts unknown. It’s what Isaiah heard as a whispered promise from God as he stood there alone, a voice crying in the middle of the mess that God’s chosen people had made of their lives on good land, the gift.
In Advent we recreate that waiting with Isaiah, hearing his cry for help as well Israel’s centuries later, waiting for the first coming. And if we listen, we can hear our own cries as well, below all the busy-ness of the holidays, preparing to celebrate as if we already knew the end of that story, pre-triumphant.
Clearly we are still waiting for the Kingdom, which we only have to turn on the news to remember. The tragedies of warfare are splattering around the globe. We hear as well, deep in our psyches, in our hearts, the quieter tragedies of ruination of our planet’s capacity to sustain us, under the onslaught of First World ways enslaving every other corner of the world. We need help because we are unable to stop, as addicted to our consumptive ways as an alcoholic is to drink.
“Coming,” the Bible says, through many mouths recorded across the centuries. Do we believe it? Can we?
We are waiting, but not just for the baby in the manger. We are waiting for deliverance, to be rescued from the worst of us, including the worst of us that inhabits our own individual lives.
That the Wise Men found a newborn baby in a barn with the livestock is part of the message, part of the answer. “I am coming,” it says, and in a form just like you. Same entry: down a woman’s birth canal. Same growing-up situations: a father with part-time employment in the Empire, a small, barely productive plot in the village from which to feed us all. Teen-age mother due to have more babies in the near future. A community not particularly interested in poets or prophets, just in how to stay alive, given the circumstances. A world with short life-expectancies, where the clank of Roman swords can shorten even those brief years in a heartbeat.
And then, when The Answer has convinced enough of us that God has our back and we take our case to the highest court in the land, the worst of us make sure we understand that the answer to The Answer is no.
We still say no to it. One month a year we sing songs to it, decorate trees we’ve chopped from their roots at an early age, purchase all kinds of goods made in sweatshops in China and Vietnam, India and Pakistan, hoping some small part of the profits will help to feed families in those countries more like Palestine was 2000 years ago than we are now.
But if we could become convinced that a second coming was actually possible, and we saw some evidence of it on the horizon—say, a star, or some angel’s visitation, a sign of some kind we could rightly interpret—what would we say? Would we leave our precious flocks there on the dark hillside and hike into town to check it out?
“Coming.” We need to practice saying it. “We’re coming.”
Trudy Wischemann is a religious neophyte who writes. You can send her your responses c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247. This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.