Rev Katherine Rainger reflects on the ancient and contemporary desire for peace.
Live with longing
Often concealed by shallow desire, our gut aches are masked with distraction instead of learning to live with our longing.
Daily Reading Luke 1:57-66
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Zechariah had been waiting for a lifetime. Now old, he was well practiced at the art of longing.
He and Elizabeth had grown used to living with the deep ache of what they longed for. They had endured the torturous years of unsuccessful trying and now lived with the unfulfilled reality of a future unrealised. Then God surprised them by visiting Zechariah in the temple with the news that God had remembered his people. Zechariah was speechless. Amazing things were happening, and he couldn’t talk about it. Zechariah was to live in longing awhile longer.
We live in a world filled with deep longing. If you listen carefully you can hear it, the silent scream in the suburbs. You can hear her aching for acceptance in the lonely rejection of who she truly is; hear him craving peace in the chaotic anxiety of his restlessness; hear them ache for deeper meaning in their ambition and success. Often concealed by shallow desire, our gut aches are masked with distraction instead of learning to live with our longing.
If you listen, you can hear it. The sounds of a land groaning for a new way. The cries of a people longing for justice and conciliation. The tears of too many as they are beaten and fearful. Haunted by stories and scars and horrible histories we live with a longing for something different. When we sit still, we can hear it within ourselves. A quiet waiting. We are longing.
A few months ago, I experienced a deep ache of disappointment. It was unpleasant and lasted for longer than I wanted. I was carrying the pain of too many people around me and I was disappointed that I could not help them. I groaned. I lamented. I let out tears and cries and frustrations. And I waited. I wait still. It has exposed my distraction and it is deepening my longing. I’ve found in the waiting a rising cry of hope for the King to come. Glimpses of his activity are new again and anticipation for his return grows. I am longing.
Zechariah too had been longing and waiting. Then the moment came, his boy was born. Zechariah gave away the honour of naming his son and called him John. And he couldn’t contain himself any longer. A lifelong gut ache of longing overflowed into praise. The people of God had been aching for the coming of a new King who would restore His kingdom and regather a people. The quiet waiting now burst forth in a song of celebration. Out came an expression of hopeful longing for a new salvation, for the dawning of a new day. And Zechariah’s son was the one who would prepare the way.
Advent creates space for us to practice longing. To acknowledge the gut cry that groans from deep within. To sit with the discontent, unsettled by the way things are. To look forward in hope to the promises that God will remember. To pause long enough to experience the ache and the anticipation. And then to speak and to sing with long awaited joy at the dawning of a new Christmas morning. To overflow with celebration as the child is born. God has remembered.
If you let out your cry of longing what would it sound like? If you sit with your longing where does that lead you?
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