A Faith of Beginnings


We are in the midst of Advent, which looks like lighting a candle each night before dinner and reading a short devotion from a kid-friendly book. Our oldest is now able to do the bulk of the reading which has added an incredible element to our evenings. Because she gets the spotlight for the reading, she has graciously ceded the extinguishing of the candle to her younger sister, meaning we have one less quibble at the table. There’s also something amazing about passing on the reading after seven years of finding the “perfect fit.” It’s a reminder of why we create imperfect habits and rhythms as a family. Now, our girls can’t imagine life without Advent readings and I am grateful that it’s an ingrained part of our year.

I’ve been thinking about imperfect habits lately and how it translates to my view of God and faith. Recently, I was reading the parable of the lost son in Luke 15. It’s a story I’ve read countless times since I was a child and recently taught to the kindergarten Sunday school class at our church. As an oldest, rule-following child, I’ve always had empathy for the elder son. I absolutely understood his frustration at watching the mistakes of his younger brother celebrated. Growing up, I was taught to be like the younger son, and not like the ungrateful and shortsighted older one. But the other day, I was struck with the way this parable ends.

After listening to his oldest son, the father says, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:31-32, NIV)

And there the story ends. We don’t know what happens next. Maybe the older son immediately recognizes what his father is saying and rejoins the party, grateful for his brother’s return. Maybe he takes this as permission to go off on his own adventure, knowing his father will be waiting with grace and open arms. Maybe he remains discontent and sells his own inheritance to move away from his dysfunctional family. We don’t know. Really, the parable ends at the beginning. The story of the prodigal can be read as a preface for how the brothers choose to live out the rest of their lives.

We are waiting in the quiet this Advent season, slowly lighting the candles each week, remembering that the light is growing as we anticipate the birth of Christ. But Christmas isn’t a culminating celebration. It’s the beginning of the story. We are anticipating a baby that won’t do much of anything for another three decades. And even then, he dies right as momentum is growing. What kind of a faith is this?

I’m remembering that it’s a faith of beginnings. We are always at the beginning of the story. What we have been given is the preface. We are anticipating a baby who grows up to die. We anticipate the risen Christ who promises to come again. We anticipate the renewal of this world, not knowing what that means for our role in politics, justice, and peacemaking.

God has never offered us the end of the story. God has always given us another beginning. I’m learning to read the Bible through the lens of beginning and to lean into the fact that faith is not knowing the ending.

As we light the candles and create habits, I live in hope that this will be the year Advent comes together for our family. This will be the year we find that perfect devotional or remember to practice all the feasts well. This is the year my girls will actually “get” the whole point, beyond the chocolate and letters to Santa.

As I anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus, I’m remembering to stay at the beginning of the story. Christmas is not the culmination of Advent; Easter is not the culmination of Lent; working toward peace and reconciliation isn’t the culmination of being a follower of Christ. These are all important points along the way, but none of them are the endpoint. They are all the beginning, over and over again.