You Will Be My Witness
Last night I hosted an advent wreath party at my home. When I lived in Charlotte, North Carolina I started participating in this annual tradition at a friend’s house. It quickly became one of my favorite ways to start the Christmas season. It was fun and meaningful to continue the tradition here in Austin. There was something so sweet about gathering the greenery from trails around my home and then being with friends as we started a messy process of adding branches to the arrangement, tolerating the awkward stage of the project, not knowing if we were creating anything worthwhile at all and then to see a circle of life take form in front of us.
I noticed I was a little anxious about the event as we got started. As everyone started to create their wreaths, I realized that in Charlotte I came into a group where people had already done this thing before. I was able to watch and see what they were doing. Their actions became a witness to me for how this whole thing should go. When my wreath looked awkward and as if nothing good could come out of my fumbling through the process, I watched to see that others, too, were going through the same awkward phase, but they did not seem troubled. Their example helped me trust that everything would work out if I just kept sticking the greenery into the green foam. And, every year it did. Every year I took home a full, gorgeous, green wreath. Every year the witness of those around me gave me enough faith in my own journey to keep going and trust the process.
Last night I realized that everyone in the room was new to this activity EXCEPT for me. There was no one to look around and watch…except me. I was the only witness. I was the only example. I was the only voice saying: “It is going to look weird for a while. Just keep going. It takes a while, but it will be so beautiful in the end.”
I found myself wondering: “Will they believe me? Will they get discouraged and want to quit? Will they trust that I know what I am doing? Will they have faith that my voice is worth hearing? What if I didn’t do a good enough job giving them a vision for what the end result will be?”
As is usual for me, I was surrounded by some pretty strong women…women who are not prone to wasting time on something that seemed like it was going nowhere. I decided that the only thing I could do was keep encouraging…and keep focusing on my own wreath. If I kept working on what was in front of me, maybe my focus, my effort and my example would be enough. Maybe.
In the end, everyone finished. Everyone left home with a gorgeous circle of life. As they left, I pulled people in for hugs and heard things like: “This was so fun. I had no idea what this was going to look like, but I loved it! Thank you for starting this tradition.”
I was so grateful that they had trusted me enough to participate. I was so grateful that we had all supported one another to have faith in our own journey to keep going and trust the process.
Advent literally means “arrival”. In the Christian calendar it is the start of the Christian New Year. We begin the year waiting in darkness with our only hope represented in the flickers of light in our wreaths pointing us toward the Light that is to come. The Christian New Year begins with waiting on the birth of the greatest Witness to God’s love for us…the birth of Christ Himself.
Likewise, we are reminded of our own witness to this world. The candles and their meaning represent our call: to be witnesses and lights of hope, faith, joy and peace.
If you are like me, sometimes you have a picture in your head about what our witness…what our example…is supposed to look like…what it SHOULD be.
Strength. Unending patience. Unfaltering grace. The ability to keep going and going and going. Maybe a halo or at least a glowing aura around your face.
With that picture in your head you might completely miss the work you are doing. You might completely miss the example YOU have to play in this world. You might completely miss the importance of YOUR voice…because you are still waiting to be strong, unendingly patient, unfaltering in grace, and the ability to keep going, going, and going. With a halo and glowing aura.
Listen to me. I am pretty desperate to have you sit down and look me in the eye. I really, really need you to hear me ask you a very, very important question.
What if your witness is nothing like what you imagine? What if that isn’t a witness at all? What if that picture in your head is NOTHING about what it means to be INCARNATIONAL…GOD WITH US…GRACE WITH DIRTY, EARTHY DUST ON IT.
What if your example is nothing like what you have seen before?
What if part of living out YOUR witness is being the only one in the room to watch?
What if you just kept doing the next right thing…the next thing you know to do…what if staying focused and faithful and true to what is right in front of YOU is enough?
I need you to hear me on this. I need you to know that I… ME… I NEED your witness, your example, and your voice.
I need your witness to DARKNESS… darkness that intimately knows depth, fear, beauty and courage.
I need your witness to all that is GREY… situations and life experiences that are complex and three dimensional…stories that are never “all or nothing” or “black and white”.
I need your witness to MESSY…complicated and tender stories that do not fit into any manmade box.
I need your witness to TEARS…tears that say “This is me. I have experienced pain. I am holding on by my fingernails to hope and I am HERE.”
I need your witness to DOUBT…doubt that reveals TRUST in a God that isn’t afraid of any questions, wonderings or wanderings.
I need your witness to SKEPTICISM…radical authenticity that makes room for others to be REAL and honest that this life can be hard, unimaginably painful and confusing AF.
I need your witness to ANGER… anger that sees injustices and doesn’t try to rationalize them away, but gives voice to the bullshit.
I need your witness to what is UNPLANNED… all the things that are not preconceived, that are not the stuff of dreams, the things that happens anyway… things that often feel like they might bury us alive.
I need your witness to GRIEF… sadness that is so raw and vulnerable, ripping us open with its cries of loss.
I need your witness to LOVE…love that is strange and sweet and socially unacceptable and faithful.
I don’t need strength, unending patience and unfaltering grace… not from you, I don’t. What I need from you…quite desperately, to be honest…is your WITNESS. I need your EXAMPLE. I need your VOICE.
I need you to be willing to be the ONLY ONE IN THE ROOM TO WATCH.
I need you to do the next right thing even if that is calling out bullshit or crying or expressing anger or doubt. I need you to be honest and vulnerable and willing to stand in the dark. I need you to give voice to the grey, the unplanned, and to the MESS.
This season as we wait in the dark for the LIGHT to come, this season as we celebrate the coming of THE Witness we have in Christ, I need you to be YOU.
I need you to be TRUSTWORTHY. And, if I am going to trust you I need you to be real…and keep doing what is in front of you…as awkward and weird as it seems.
Can we do that for one another? Can we be awkward, weird, real and TRUSTWORTHY? Can we be witnesses to the strange, socially unacceptable, faithful whisperings of the Holy Spirit in our dark, grey, messy, unplanned, complex, beautiful lives that will never, ever, EVER fit into someone’s manmade box?
God, may it be.
I need your witness.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.