Pausing in the In-Between

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michele-morin-advent3

It was a day like any other day in the life-long ministry of Zacharias the priest. With Elisabeth’s goodbye kiss still warm on his cheek, he went about his business, reporting for duty in his scheduled commitment to serve in the Temple.

It was a day like no other day when the honor of entering the most holy place fell to Zacharias, and his aging eyes found the burning incense eclipsed by angel light. Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering. God’s four-hundred year silence was broken, leaving an elderly couple blinking and gasping at this new way of understanding the word impossible.

“Well stricken in years” is the delicate, traditional rendering, a state that would have made for a challenging pregnancy in any era — even if you are carrying the forerunner of the Messiah. Like a spavined barn with tar paper siding, Elisabeth’s olden frame would have been covered with skin already stretched and sagging, but with joy she bore the bone-on-bone pain of an aging back and a heavy load.

Did she understand that her glorious passage from barren to fruitful was more a rending of history than a miracle of gynecology?

//

It was a December day like any other. There was dog hair that needed to be vacuumed. There were lessons that needed to be prepared. There were emails unanswered and dishes unwashed. By my calculation, Advent season includes the routine preparation of at least 75 meals on top of all the other holiday baking and decorating.

It was a December day like none before. Sitting at the dining room table with my Bible open to the pages between the Testaments– the ones that follow the scalding prophetic words and precede the red letters of grace–I imagined myself into the sandals of the faithful. Pausing in this liminal space, I wondered about waiting and the nature of a sinewy watchfulness that keeps on trusting in the fulfillment of a centuries-old promise in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

From the outside, I think it must look like everyday life:
–Elisabeth, hands resting upon implausible roundness as she tries to decipher Zechariah’s chalkboard scribbles;
–Mary, silently pondering a secret that would rock her teenage world and send the tongues of Nazareth wagging;
–Anna, keeping her open-ended vigil, not knowing that the waiting would soon be over and her eyes would see salvation in an infant’s small appearance.

Attending to the faithfulness of these women of Christmas puts parentheses around a moment, as I try to identify with the generations who lived their days in the in-between. Sure, God had promised that a Messiah would come, and those who knew the Scriptures seemed to have a lot of details about it. Even so, for those who held the promise close to their hearts, it must have seemed as if God had pressed history’s pause button, and they had been left standing in a freeze frame, waiting for deliverance.

Fast forward over two thousand years from the dawn of Anno Domini, and we’ve lost that connection between expectation and faith. High-speed internet and Amazon one-day shipping are relics of my forward-leaning Religion of Next. I wear my hurry like an ill-fitting cassock, proclaiming by my words and deeds the counterfeit gospel that God is in the slowest hurry I’ve ever seen. In a fast-forward life, anticipation fades like childhood memory and the long-forgotten sound of Christmas bells.

When Christmas becomes separated from Truth, it lands in my December like a burden–just one more thing in the multitude of things that need to be checked off my list. But, if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, my blunted perception is sharpened just enough to hear God’s present-day proclamation in words that bypass angel lips and star song, but land in power on the believing heart:

“Nothing shall be impossible.”*
“God is with us.”**

Words spoken into that long ago in-between resonate for today’s waiting.
Simple Truth schools me in the authentic gospel of expectation in which the power and the presence of God bursts through all the shallow frippery and hoopla of a holiday run amuck.
Entering the holy place of the in-between, Truth feeds an advent of belief. For, like Elisabeth, I, too, live in hope for that which is yet unseen, my heart pregnant with anticipation of the Coming that is yet to come.

*Luke 1:37
** Matthew 1:23

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Michele Morin
I am wife to a patient husband, Mum to four young men and a daughter-in-love, and, now, Gram to one adorable grandboy. My days are spent homeschooling, reading piles of books, and, in the summer, tending our beautiful (but messy) garden and canning the vegetables. I love to teach the Bible, and am privileged to gather weekly around a table with the women of my church and to blog at Living Our Days about the grace I am receiving and the lessons from God’s Word that I am trusting.
Michele Morin

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  • Bev Murrill

    Michele

    Thanks for the depths and breadths you give each ancient story. Thanks for showing us the days like every other and like no other… thanks for letting me glimpse the possibilities if i allow myself to carry the joy along with the ‘bone on bone aches of the heavy load’. Amazing to realise again that they come together. Your writing always gives me such joy.

    • I love these stories, and I try to remember that we are also living a story that is drenched in the presence of God as well. I see it with the benefit of hindsight and a whole bunch of Scriptural interpretation, but I’m slow to see the unfolding of grace in the present tense right here on this planet.

      I’m thankful for community and the sharing of joys, the sharing of the bone on bone ache. And your encouragement is always a great gift to me.

  • Sometimes in reading Scriptures, especially one’s we are well familiar with, it is difficult to remember the agony of waiting that so many of the people in the Bible experienced. When we know the outcome, it’s easy to scoff at their impatience. And yet we know the ultimate outcome of our life here on earth. And yet the waiting is still so hard. Thanks for the reminder that we are so SO not alone on our struggle with the waiting, as so many in our lineage of faith were waiters too.

    • Yes! These were real people with all the angst and disappointment that we would feel in the midst of multiple challenges: infertility, long waiting, promises yet unfulfilled.
      Somehow, if we’re not careful, we tend to cast them all as super-saints who functioned without human frailty.

      And even though we have the benefit of the full revelation of God in Scripture, our hearts fail us in the waiting.

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  • meema fields

    Michele!
    This: I wear my hurry like an ill-fitting cassock, proclaiming by my words and deeds the counterfeit gospel that God is in the slowest hurry I’ve ever seen.

    You feed me and so I have no choice but to grow.

    • Argh. I read that sentence you quoted and am reminded of all the ways in which I’ve tried to hurry God along, as if He might profit from my encouragement in the form of lists of reasons why I need Him to act on my timeline.

      This business of waiting shows up all the cracks in my theology, so every Advent season, I take it on again, remembering Elisabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna, their faithfulness in the freeze frame between covenants, and I ask God to work that miracle in my life.

  • Diane McElwain

    Startling and strange, the heavenly messenger’s words hooked unbelief, earning Zacharias a nine-month sentence of mute pondering.
    Such description causes me to pause and thank God. Contemplate, wait for the Christ child…Michele, thank you for your words!

    • I can only just barely imagine what it must have been like to be silent for nine months. No — actually, I can’t imagine it without feeling claustrophobic. Zacharias must have been a changed man at the end of that time of enforced wordlessness, and your words today reinforce the message that pausing and contemplating are completely right responses to the glory of God revealed in Christ.

  • Such a vivid picture of waiting in anticipation, Michele. Stilled by your words on His Word again. Thank you- I’ll be here today: “present to the wonder of Word made flesh, my blunted perception is sharpened just enough to hear God’s present-day proclamation in words that bypass angel lips and star song, but land in power on the believing heart”

    • And it’s my hope that the believing hearts (my own included) will be there, ready to receive the words of hope and to bear witness to their power.

      Thank you , Bethany, for being there with me!

  • Helene Burns

    Oh my, your words are such a treasure Michele – filled with such imagery of the miracle that we celebrate and the tension of the in-between. Such a powerful reminder that truly with God, nothing shall be impossible for He is with us.

    Have the most blessed Christmas Michele – your gift of words are not only precious today, but almost every day as I look for your encouraging comments so filled with insight as you post with such a generous heart and wisdom here at SheLoves Magazine. Much love and gratitude for you. xo

    • I’m trusting along with you, Helene, for the miracle of faith to feed that expectation — nothing is beyond the power of God!
      May it remain with us beyond our celebration of Christmas and fuel our living in 2017!

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Michelle! Such beauty! Thank you for sharing this gift with us. It is delicious and nourishing and rich!

    • Wow, Nichole! That sounds almost as good as chocolate! Honored to be the recipient of such blessed adjectives!

  • Jamie

    Such beautiful words. Merry Christmas!

    • Thank you, Jamie, for the gift of your presence here.

  • Tasha

    This is beautiful. I loved these words:
    “When Christmas becomes separated from Truth, it lands in my December like a burden–just one more thing in the multitude of things that need to be checked off my list. But, if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, my blunted perception is sharpened just enough to hear God’s present-day proclamation in words that bypass angel lips and star song, but land in power on the believing heart:

    “Nothing shall be impossible.”*

    “God is with us.”
    They spoke straight to my heart. Thank you for writing this, Michele.

    • Tasha, thank you for letting me know!
      May your heart be filled with reminders of the wonder of Word made flesh this Christmas!

  • Nicola

    Love this. May Christmas not become a burden on my list but a wonderful truth worth celebrating!

    • YES! May it land with joy on our hearts!
      Blessings to you, Nicola.

  • bethwillismiller

    Michele, I love, love, love this post, especially your quote, “But, if I stay present to the wonder of Word made flesh, my blunted perception is sharpened just enough to hear God’s present-day proclamation in words that bypass angel lips and star song, but land in power on the believing heart: ‘Nothing shall be impossible. God is with us.'” Leaning in to this precious Truth, these wonderful words of life today…many blessings to you ❤️

    • So wonderful to meet you here, Beth. And let’s make it our prayer that the truth of those words will shape our 2017 — I want to be one of those “believing hearts” for whom Truth makes all the difference.

      • bethwillismiller

        Amen, Michele, I am agreeing with you in prayer!

  • LOVE this post! Beautifully written and a lovely side by side with the story of Elizabeth 🙂

    • I love Elisabeth’s input to the Christmas story.
      Thanks, Nicole, for reading and for your encouragement.

  • I loved your reflections on Elizabeth’s story. She and the other women are great examples of faithfulness in the waiting. It’s so true that today we are used to everything being instant- it’s important to be intentional about slowing down and listening to God in our pausing and waiting.

    • I’m trusting for grace to be intentional about this as we begin a new year. In my mind I know that the overlooked moments and routines can become a meeting place with God. Now to bring my practice into line with my beliefs!

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