on advent acceptance

The teenaged lector looked nervous in his (untucked) shirt and (crooked) tie, peppering the intercessions with quiet stammers and awkward pauses.

My heart sunk for him, remembering how mortifying it felt to read in front of peers in high school. The church crammed full of faith formation students, bored or giggling or texting under their pews, collectively cringed as we waited for him to finish the prayers of the faithful.

“For all….acceptant parents…during this Advent season, that they…may….m-meet Christ as they wait… in joyful hope for…the…arrivaloftheirchildwepraytotheLord.”

Acceptant parents. Even I couldn’t hide a smile at that one.

Regardless of whether we have children of our own or not, we all know what it means to be an “expectant parent”: equal parts joy and sheer terror at the life-changing event to come.

Expectant parents have books and baby showers; they get pats on the back and the belly. We offer them congratulations and advice; we smile and tell them to sleep while they can. Expectancy is well-defined, even if it requires patience and persistence.

But what does it mean to be an “acceptant” parent instead? What insight did the young lector offer with his mangling – or improvising – of the well-worn phrase?

All parents are acceptant in their own way. Reality forces us to accept the children we are given, with all the challenges and frustrations they bring, along with great joy. Our child may have disabilities or emotional issues. They may struggle with mental illness or addiction or disease in terrible ways from which we long to protect them. Or they may simply present us with the mirror that reveals the ugly truth of our own flaws as we strive to walk with them on their journey of growing up.

Acceptance calls us to greater love as parents – not the idealized pastels of baby showers, but the bold, brash colors of real life. When we accept our children as they are, we let go of illusions and embrace the beauty and brokenness right in front of us. When we accept another person as a child of God, we see him or her with new eyes – a clearer vision.

Acceptance may be an Advent virtue as well. We wanted a powerful, political messiah – a strong leader to free us from the hell of slavery we were living. Instead we got…a baby? Born in a barn of animal stink and dirt? What about the prophets’ poetry – the images of our expectancy? How could we reconcile their words with the reality in front of us?

The Nativity is shocking in its reversal of expectations. Our idealized, commercialized version of the happy, glowing Bethlehem scene has gradually eroded our understanding of the barely believable truth that This was where and when and how God chose to break into our world in an unprecedented way.

Yet those who came to learn from and love this Jesus of Nazareth, who gradually accepted him as the savior and recognized his truth – their acceptance allowed them to see with new eyes, freed them from expectations to live in a new way, urged them on to greater love and compassion.

My Advent challenge today is to be an acceptant parent, spouse, friend. To set aside my preconceived notions of How It All Must Play Out and to embrace the reality I have been given to live. To allow God and other people to surprise me, upend my expectations.

What better Advent model of an acceptant parent than Mary herself:

No payment was promised, no promises made

No wedding was dated, no blue prints displayed

Yet Mary, consenting to what none could guess,

Replied with conviction, “Tell God I say ‘Yes.'”

(John Bell, Iona Community, “No Wind at The Window”)

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