A traveler arrived in a small village in the middle of winter to find an old man shivering in the cold outside the synagogue.” What are you doing here?” the traveler inquired.
“I'm waiting for the coming of the Messiah.”
“That must be an important job,” said the; traveler. “The community must pay you a lot of money.”
“No, not at all. They just let me sit here on this bench. Once in a while someone gives me a little food.”
“That must be hard. But even if they don't pay you, they must honor you for doing this; important work.”
“No, not at all they think that I'm crazy.”
“I don't understand. They don't pay you, they don't respect you. You sit in the cold, shivering and hungry. What kind of job is this?”
“Well, it's steady work.” (Source unknown)
In her 2012 Advent message, the Most Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori, who at the time was serving as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, asked, "What do you desire most?"
Individuals will answer her question in a variety of ways. Among likely answers are: world peace, an environmentally healthy earth, and no more cancer or other horrific diseases. The very essence of “desire” entails something which does not now exist. Desire points to a disparity between what is and what is wanted.
To realize a desire, something or someone (or both) must change.
Change, however, inherently involves conflict. Without conflict, both creativity and change (including growth) are impossible. One of my favorite illustrations about conflict as a prerequisite for change involves watching a baby bird hatch from its shell. Breaking the shell for the chick is an act of misguided help that leaves the newly emerged chick too weak to face life’s demands. Pecking at the shell and then forcing its way through the opening ensure that the newly emerged chick will have enough strength to meet life’s early demands.
Christians who believe that Jesus was born to bring peace to the world tend to conveniently forget that the advent of peace inherently requires that they and others change.
Conflict need not be violent, e.g., the violence of war or terrorism. Conversely, avoiding conflict or attempting to resolve conflict by imposing a resolution never actually resolves conflict and frequently depends upon emotional violence (for example, the threat of coercion) to achieve its aim.
Thankfully, conflict does not always represent a win-lose situation, such as in a game of chess or competitive bidding to win a commercial contract awarded to the low bidder.
Conflict often hides a potential win-win situation. Most importantly, God desires a future for creation characterized by love, peace, and blessing. Such a future is good not only for God but for all of creation. Yet that future is impossible without conflict. People and systems mired in evil and brokenness must change, moving to freedom and health. Hatred must morph into love. And so forth.
Advent is a season of longing for the future that God desires for creation. Like the old man shivering outside the synagogue in the story with which this post begins, we metaphorically describe that longing as awaiting the Messiah. While we may not wait alone, the number of people who wait seems to be diminishing. Advent has become a season observed by few and Christmas has become synonymous with commerce. When you feel alone and wonder if the waiting is worthwhile (the old man shivering by himself in front of the synagogue), ponder these questions:
· How is God acting in the presence to bring creation to the future that God desires for it?
· What is the shape of your “waiting,” i.e., how are you collaborating with God to bring that future closer to the present?
· How can you utilize conflict as a catalyst for change and creativity?