For nearly 30 years, I lived on a street called Oceanview Drive in Anchorage, Alaska.
To faraway friends, the name conjured sand, sailing and striking coastal views.
In reality, while some folks on the other side of the street had sea views, I had to stand on tiptoes in my living room in the winter when all the trees were bare to catch a glimpse of Cook Inlet, the 180-mile arm of water that stretched up to Anchorage from the Gulf of Alaska and the Northern Pacific Ocean.
And there was no sand. Instead, there was a very long stretch of shrunken trees and then mud flats leading to the water.
Alaska is a wild place, even in urban areas, and every year it seemed someone was rescued from the dangerous mud flats of the inlet, usually farther downtown where the coast was more accessible. People died in the deceptive mud, similar to quicksand.
Nevertheless, my street yielded beautiful views of the inlet. I could walk to a spot on the hill and look out past the lazy little railroad track that snaked below along the coast.
With chilly waters glistening under an Alaskan sun, a strange feeling of impermanence would sometimes overtake me: I need to savor this beauty because someday I will no longer walk here.
Advent is a time of waiting, of joyful expectation. And yet, it’s also a time of wistful remembrance and of acknowledgement of the passage of time. It’s a moment of paradox.
Who among us does not remember the Christmases of their childhood and the people, the parents or grandparents or lost siblings, who once populated those Christmases?
What parent fails to recall the delight of a child, now grown, who once glimpsed his first Christmas lights? Who feels a pang at the thought of the homes, now memories, where love was born?
Who sees the Child swaddled by his young mother and doesn’t see the shadow of the Cross?
This Christmas, I’m once again near an ocean, this time the Atlantic as my husband and I house hunt while renting a beach home near our East Coast daughters. It’s a nomadic feeling, our belongings in storage, our address temporary. My beloved creche and Christmas decorations are in a warehouse far away.
When I walk to the ocean now, there are no mud flats, just sand where my footprints make an imprint today and are washed away tomorrow.
If you sometimes feel wistful during Advent, don’t feel alone and don’t feel guilty.
Perhaps, like me, you might find consolation in Psalm 42.
“As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God.” The psalmist is far from Jerusalem and his community. Yet he waits on God. Waiting for God is, after all, our faith history and our Advent calling.
The psalmist expresses his deep feelings, both of trust and of sorrow, by describing water.
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your torrents and all your waves and breakers sweep over me.”
His words convey God’s infinite power. God is with us, whether in the inlet mud flats or the breaking waves of the Atlantic or the currents of the Missouri or Mississippi Rivers. God’s love for us is deep and strong.
In this Advent paradox, we experience the joy of Christ’s coming, yet yearn for his presence. We remember our Jewish ancestors awaiting the Messiah, as we long for the completion of his kingdom in this broken world.
Wait for God, the psalmist writes. Just be silent, be patient, be awake and wait.
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