“As for me,” said American writer E.B. White, “I en¬joy liv¬ing among ped¬es¬tri¬ans who have an in¬stinct¬ive and ha¬bitu¬al real¬iz¬a¬tion that there is more to a jour¬ney than the mere fact of ar¬rival.”(1)
Under typical circumstances, the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web would not have presented me with much pause here. The pause of agreement, yes, for this is normally the kind of thought with which I resonate, even though the word ‘journey’ may be overused and prone to sentimentalisms. I think it’s true that we lamentably fail to see the great gift of the collective whole, perhaps particularly in the segments of life where we are comfortable with our divided realms—where the end triumphs over the means, destination over the journey, and heaven is divided from earth, the spiritual from the physical, the present from the eternal. White’s words fit aptly upon any soapbox addressing the paradox of a king who is both present and coming—a mystery Jesus championed again and again, in his storytelling, his living, and his dying. In the kingdom he espoused, the journey is not simply a matter of arriving one distant day at the gates of pearl, but rather in finding the pearl of great price in our midst even now and seizing it with all that is in us. Under typical circumstances, I would have enlisted E.B. White’s voice in one of my favorite sermons.
But I read this quote as I watched the live coverage of 33 Chilean miners emerging from a two-month journey of being trapped beneath the earth. For them, the journey was indeed astounding, but the arrival was everything.
Over seventy years ago from a pulpit in London during the season of Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the image of a man trapped after a mining disaster: Deep in the earth, dark as night, the man is cut off and alone. The supply of oxygen is frighteningly limited. Food, water, and options are scarce; silence and fear are not. He knows his situation, and he can do nothing but wait. “He knows that up there, the people are moving about, the women and children are crying—but the way to them is blocked. There is no hope.”(2) But what if just then, in the distance, the sounds of tapping are heard—the sound of knocking, the sound of friends, the sound of evidence that your cries have been heard, that your lament had not been silenced? This, said Bonhoeffer in December of 1933, is the hope of the Christian Advent: the coming of one who knows, the drawing near of a human rescuer to humankind, the arrival of Christ for those laboring to breathe. Like the Chilean miners, elated at the arrival of Manuel Gonzalez, the rescuer sent 2,040 feet underground to coordinate the procedure, Christ’s arrival into this dark world matters most profoundly.
Even so, his arrival is not the end of our waiting. It is not the end of our journey.
Advent teaches us how to wait wherever it finds us. “Can and should there be anything else more important for us than the hammers and blows of Jesus Christ coming into our lives?”(3) In our waiting, we are given assent to cry out as the first believers did, Come, Lord Jesus! This is the ancient cry of palpable hope—Maranatha!—Lord, come quickly!—which is at times as much a cry of lament and dire need as it is a cry of hope. Advent teaches us to wait and watch, and to live expectantly regardless, though we sit in the dark, though we find ourselves scared or exhausted and struggling for air. “When these things begin to take place,” instructs Christ, “stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).
The angel’s repeated instruction to “Fear not” beckons the sound of hope drawing near, the sounds of God’s human arrival in dark and unexpected places. There are also the sounds of saints who have gone before and proclaim their rescuer even in death. There are sounds of the heartrending promise: “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19).
The world is still dark. But in it every day a quiet voice breaks in, “I stand at the door and knock.” Christ has come. Christ is here. Christ will come again.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) “Trapped Aussie Miners Freed After 2 Weeks,” MSNBC, May 9, 2006.
(2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 89.
(3) Ibid., 96.