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Get Lost - An Advent Message from Bishop Russell

Every year the church begins a new year on the first Sunday of Advent. It begins with readings that strongly implore us with very spirited language to be attentive to the work of God in the world.

Keep awake, stand up, raise your head, be on guard, pay attention, be ready, keep alert at all times, watch out. Again, keep awake. It is a bit like an annual wake-up call from God who rouses us from the sleepy complacency and monotony of the daily grind of our lives. Wake up. God is at work, so don’t miss it!

However, we also live in a time that has politically charged the idea of being awake. I wonder how the preacher’s task is made more difficult this Advent because the mere mention of being awake can actually be heard as partisan political jargon rather than God’s divine invitation.

So I’ve been imagining a different way to extend God’s Advent wake-up call to you. My thinking took me back several years ago to a three-week solo trip I took to the Holy Lands and specifically a week I spent touring the area around and on the streets of the Old City of Nazareth. Upon my return, a friend asked me about the trip with the question, “Of all the places you visited and all that you encountered, what was the highlight?” Before I even realized what I was saying, an answer poured out from deep in my soul, “The day I got lost in Nazareth.”

I had set out to make it to Mount Tabor where it is believed the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration happened. It was going to be a bit of a haul through the winding streets of the Old City, past the busy avenues of the new neighborhoods of the city and finally out a road to climb the actual hill.

I made it out of the Old City just fine. But at some point in the morning, I passed the same street corner I had passed about 45 minutes earlier. I was all turned around. I was lost.

I did not have a phone or a map. So I just kept going. I tried unsuccessfully to ask for directions. My Arabic and Hebrew were limited to "good morning", "thank you," and "peace be with you." By lunch, I realized I would never make it to Mount Tabor. So I started to wander.

And it was only when I leaned into my lostness, that I found a great gift of divine encounter. I sat down with a cup of tea and a very old weathered Palestinian man who told me the tragic story of how as a child in 1948 bulldozers destroyed his home forcing his family to move to Nazareth. I met a shopkeeper who convinced me that I needed a hat that I did not need. I enjoyed the best Middle Eastern food I have ever had (before or since) cooked on a small grill by a young Arab street vendor. And while it was not Mount Tabor, I stumbled upon a small church on a hill where I sat for hours. It was only when I got lost that I found again the gift of sheer delight unfettered by the demands and destinations that so often drive me onward.

So here is my Advent invitation for you. Go get lost. In the hustle and bustle of the next month, take some of your precious time to lose your sense of time.

Get lost on a walk in your neighborhood. Give up on your pace and heart rate in order to find again the surprises along the way.

Sit down somewhere outdoors and go get lost in creation and find again the gift of joy and wonder in the works of God.

Go volunteer where the least of Jesus’ family can be found. Get lost in the story of a stranger so that you may find again your heart still beats with compassion.

Get lost in the pages of a book and find again the gift of imagination that is enkindled in a good story that is not bound to a screen.

Go get lost in the work of forgiveness with someone with whom you are estranged. And find again the power of reconciliation.

Go get lost in your grief. Yes, stop denying it and dismissing it so that you may find again that such pain is the result of love. And find again the peace of God that passes all understanding.

Go find someone that you know who is a bit lost. Get lost with them in their pain and find again the power of healing when we share another’s burden.

Go share a meal and get lost in a good meal with someone you love and find again the sheer delight of conversation.

Get away from all the manmade lights and go get lost under the stars. And find again the mysterious miracle of this season who was born under those very same stars.

This is God’s world, and God is at work in it. And the divine invitation to find that work is being extended to us all the time. So don’t miss out. Go get lost so you may find again the mystery of God’s presence and power at work in your life.

And have a blessed Advent journey.



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