One simple question results in a whole lot of pondering.
During Advent, we focus on the future. Trips to the grocery store include items we may not normally purchase, but now we do, for the upcoming feast. We write cards and send gifts, hoping that they arrive before Dec. 25. We plan outings with friends and families that celebrate the season and schedule all manner of festivities. All of this is in the future, until it happens. Then, hopefully, it becomes a blessed memory.
A few days ago as I pushed my four year old grandson in a grocery cart, out of the blue he asked, “Grandma, where is the future?”
My jaw dropped at his question. Not sure how to answer, I mumbled, “The future is before us.” To demonstrate, I headed the cart to the fruit section and proclaimed, “In the future, we are going to look at apples.” Upon arrival at the apples, I noted, “See, now we are at the future,” smiling at my cleverness.
Unsatisfied, he repeated, “But where is the future?”
Hmmmm. Where indeed? Why do we spend so very much energy worrying, forecasting and fixating on something that may or may not actually come to be? Do we make the future happen? Are we guaranteed that it will be as we dream? And what happens when our hopes and dreams don’t come true? How do we cope with a future-turned-reality that spun against us?
As a 60-something, I know all too well that many things I have hoped and longed for in the future never happened. I have always struggled with too-high expectations and, as a result, when the future turns to the present, I find disappointment, not fulfillment. My humanness is quite overwhelming.
Yet, in Advent our focus is on waiting, anticipating, looking forward. Finally, at Christmas, we are blessed by the arrival of the precious gift from God, the one who is with us, the man fully human and fully divine, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. The now and not yet. Our Jesus, our Immanuel, our God-with-us.
For Christians, this belief in incarnation is literally the embodiment of our faith. This year, however, I want to sidestep the lofty theology and claim the very basic understanding of God-with-us. I want to let the future go and let the now be. I want to accompany my family with full presence and bypass the frantic “what’s next” mentality. I want the calm and the quiet to bring light and peace, knowing that is the only way to listen. I wish to claim the very present and let that be the very best future have ever hoped for.
So this year, during the holidays, I pledge to sit and be and wonder. I will spend more time simply gazing at my Christmas tree. I will take time to ponder the Holy family of my nativity set. I will breathe slowly and deeply as I am warmed by the fireplace. I will smile and be grateful for the harmonizing voices around me at the Christmas Eve service. And certainly, I will hold that curious four year-old and consider with him – where is the future? And in those places and those times, I will discover the gift of now, the incarnation.
Marlene Harder Bogard is the executive director of Mennonite Women USA. She takes joy in long walks with tall trees, great coffee, funny conversation and being with her family.