Wet, wet pavement.
Wet but not icy, a strange occurrence in Chicagoland - what with the giant, menacing lake spewing its "effects" down and across into the flats of Indiana. Yet today, wet but not slick.
The car creaks as my knees creak and we head to the gym. Trot, trot, trot. Rep, rep, rep. Sweat. Wipe face. Say goodbye.
A baker's dozen people saw me and I saw them, as we moved around in our circuits these few days short of the celebration to come. The Advent completed, already but not yet. We grunted and groaned, not unlike a person in labor pains, attempting to give birth to something. Muscle. Health. Notice from the crowds.
I leave. Sarah at the desk is always there, so I thank her for doing her job well. Part of me says she gets paid to do this, leave it alone.
Then again, since when has cash (minus taxes) compensated for blessing from a stranger? Advent is here, for God's sake. There's no shortage of blessing.
Blood coursing through the veins, I trade the workout clothes for shirt and shorts. With the kettle on for coffee, a seven-year-old's promised pancakes sit dormant in batter, and I settle to read.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be open. (Matthew 7:7, NIV)
Four hundred years of Jewish prayers, asking and seeking and knocking.
A year of people on earth, in this 21st century, asking and seeking and knocking.
What am I asking for? What am I seeking? Where am I knocking?
The kettle squeals. Pour, stir, set the timer for 4 minutes.
The news settles soon after - my wife says, "Caryn passed away."
A friend of our community, known and loved, had her Advent come early. Despite our asking. Despite our seeking. Despite our knocking. Or is the word "despite" even accurate? It seems to say that things happened against our desires, which in a sense is right, but what were we asking for? What were we seeking? Against whose door were we bruising our knuckles?
A God of love, yes, mercy and compassion.
Advent, however, doesn't "solve" everything by our definition. Jesus' birth leads to peace on earth, but a peace that comes in the midst of baby boys in Bethlehem being slaughtered wholesale by a grit-toothed and paranoid puppet king.
Jesus birth leads to healing and light for the world, but it doesn't reverse all the biological functions and give us the fountain of youth in the form of body and blood. There is still death, still pain, still grief.
Yet in the midst of it, Christ the child is so quiet. Patient. Innocent. Crying into the night air for those whom He came to save, because they may never understand what they are being saved from or to what they're being saved.
They will learn, they will feel it in their souls like their own marrow and viscera but until then they may weep. And I'll weep with them.
We sit to breakfast. My daughter spins stories well beyond her years. My wife looks beautiful though she'd say she isn't "ready" or "put together yet."
The Advent candles bearing black wicks and melted caps, burning down and down towards the moment. The moment where a shriek of life-giving effort set the groaning of the world to a new key. There is redemption possible now, whereas before it was all asking and seeking and knocking with nothing much to show for it.
So we pray for Caryn's family, our friends, our fellow travelers who have no answers and deserve them as far as we're concerned. In our limited view. In our compassion.
We pray for our grunting and groaning to make these bodies into an image - whatever image resonates with us - even if that image will ultimately kill us.
We pray for our little miracles - like coffee, pancakes, smiles and the songs of quiet nights and rested gentlemen. Why?
Because it is for this we ask.
Because it is for this we seek.
Because it is for this we knock.
The voice of the child in the manger, well acquainted with our fears and trials, speaks back to our knocking - come in, come in and see it all both as it is and as it can be.
Never will I leave you or forsake you. You were once children of darkness, but now you are in the light and can see the darkness even more clearly.
This is the Advent. This is our sometimes unsatisfying, indescribably beautiful, and more than abundant gift that God gives to us and to the world.
Father, bless our friends in their grief and in our waiting and celebrating. We ask. We seek. We knock.