What's Tony Thinking

A Poem for Today, Advent I


Many of you expressed appreciation for the poem I shared last Sunday, so maybe we’ll make that a Sunday practice — sharing a poem — for the time being.

This Sunday is the first in the season of Advent. Here is one of my favorite poems for that season, “Making the House Ready for the Lord” by Mary Oliver. I’ll follow with a few comments.

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice – it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances – but it the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat holds the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And I still believe you will
come, Lord; you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that I am really speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

In the past half-century Advent has been rediscovered by the less liturgical churches like my own. I welcome that.

That said, we have tended to turn Advent, a season of watchfulness and waiting for something, Someone, beyond ourselves, into another season of human activity and busyness. As if our frantic preparations would precipitate the coming of the Lord. If we just get the properly purple candles correctly arranged and named in the right order . . . is Hope first? No, it’s Peace . . . Jesus’ coming does not depend, thank God, on our perfection in preparation.

Mary Oliver catches this ambiguity. She speaks of house cleaning as making ready for the Lord. But then turns to all the uninvited comings that undo her best efforts — uproars of mice, gnawing squirrels, limping raccoons, and a boldly staring fox (I confirm, foxes do that). They all come, ready or not, wanted or not. So Christ’s coming does not depend upon our success in “making ready.” He comes ready or not, intruding, surprising, revealing, redeeming.

I’m all for house-cleaning. In the right mood, I sort of enjoy it. But the incursions of Jesus Christ come in unexpected ways, through unlikely people. We are never really ready. In fact, it seems that he often comes when things are all a mess.

Still, keep alert. Stay awake (metaphorically not literally), and a blessed Advent to you, dear ones.

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