In these last days of Advent, our bloggers are pondering the empty spaces that remain.  Underneath the tinsel and carols, they’re exploring places of quiet and absence, calling us to a different kind of wholeness.

Who belongs in the nativity scene?  Michelle Henrichs is wondering.  She balks at putting the magi into the scene, since they didn’t arrive until some time had passed.  It just feels wrong…but she wonders if she’s wrong.  “Like the table at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus’ nativity doesn’t belong to me or anyone else.  Jesus said that people would come from north and south, east and west but he didn’t say they would all come at once.  And Jesus didn’t say that those who came late would get the leftovers and scraps from those who were “on time.”  So why won’t I let the wise men join the party?”  We all have someone we would rather not have at God’s party.

And who’s missing, as time goes on?  Rosalind Hughes imagines Mary’s thoughts on a future Christmas, the first one after Jesus dies.  “The first Christmas after he died, she spent the dawn remembering that night in Bethlehem, and the stars, and the straw. Her sobs rehearsed those frantic convulsions of her body, his first cries; the first time she heard his voice, it was as though angels were singing. She would not touch his head again, nor cradle his feet, although they had hardened long since from their baby fatness into something more suitable for the journey of life.”  Her grief echoes the sorrow that so many people feel at this time of year.

Other grief can come from being stuck in a place you don’t want to be, Elizabeth Hagan reminds us, recalling the grief of infertility in this baby-centric time of year.  We can be stuck in all kinds of ways, left in a place of waiting without an end.  She asks this question: “So, no matter what we are waiting for, where do we find inspiration for our “stuck” times?”  Reflecting on her own season of waiting, she says: “But, the longer I waited too, the more gifts the season of waiting gave.  I learned: who I am right now is ok.  I practiced: what I am doing right now is good (even if it not what I would have chosen).  For, no good waiting season is ever wasted time.”

When Christmas Eve comes, Jan Edmiston invites us to land on the side of hospitality, and not to be like an unnamed church she recalls.  “Many years ago, we had several Muslim men come to the Christmas Eve service and one of our greeters – upon noticing their prayer caps –  said, “Why are you here?” (Please don’t say that to guests.)  “We like the story of Isa,” one replied.  And the greeter said, “Well, you’re out of luck.  Tonight we’re talking about Jesus.”  Please don’t be like that greeter.”

Just as in the manger scene, everyone belongs.

And Deb Vaughn is praying for us:

Holy One,  These last few days of Advent
could be frantic, a furious sprint to Christmas Eve:
the lists, the rehearsals,
the sermons, the last-minute shopping,
the wrapping of presents, and mailing cards.
We push. We fret. We lose the wonder
and joy of the season.

So in the midst of it all, may we not forget
that Your Presence is real,
Emmanuel, God with us,
abiding, walking with us.  Amen.

Where are your thoughts in these last Advent days?  How can we pray for the spaces in your life?  Let us know in the comments section below.

Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian Church.  She is the author of Meeting God at the Mall.

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