Nimble in Advent (Is. 64; I Cor 1:3; Mk. 13:33)
There’s a term I’ve heard used lately in business circles that’s practically become a buzz word. And that’s “nimble.” It refers to the quickness with which a given company can react to changes happening in the world around it. Is it supple enough in its approach and operations to be able take advantage of opportunities as they appear? The opposite of nimble is entrenched, so set in one’s ways and locked into the usual manner of doing things that anything new just bounces off.
It’s not a bad word to describe something in our relationship with God that Isaiah the Prophet highlights. He alights on the quality of malleability or shape-ability, the degree of softness and bend that has to be in a material before the artist can start to shape it into something of beauty. Addressing God as Father, Isaiah avows, “We are the clay; You are the potter who shapes us.”
A paraphrase of Isaiah’s prayer: “How can we be ever more ready to be molded by You? Over time, if we just let things sit, an outer casing builds up on the clay that is us. Would you please come down and break up that thick layer so the clay we are becomes moldable — by You?” Or in the business language, “How can we grow more nimble in Your presence, Lord? How can we turn suppler before Your guidance? Would You please break apart the stiff covering that builds up around our hearts and minds? We will work at it, but would You do Your part and keep softening that surface which tends to harden, always wants to thicken into a crust which screens us from You?”
Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians by complimenting them on how open they have stayed to the grace of Jesus Christ. “I give thanks to God that you’ve been enriched in every way and are not lacking in any gift of The Lord’s Spirit.”
They have remained awake – or in the words of this Advent Season, have continued stayed alert for the promptings of the Lord and kept an eye out for where in life God is calling them. They have been nimble in the face of the movements coming from the Spirit of God.
Which brings us to a word in Mark’s gospel which Jesus fairly shouts out. “Watch!” Be on the alert. Be vigilant. You don’t know when and where the Lord of the house coming, so stay as pliable and ready as you can to hear the first sound of his voice. Again, don’t let the routine and busyness of everyday life clog up your hearing. Do things — and be things — to stay open, to be supple and malleable, and remain nimble before the promptings of the Spirit of The Lord Jesus.
Keeping such watchfulness doesn’t depend solely on us. As Isaiah points out, God provides what might be called “disruptive help” along the way. The prophet pleads, “O Lord, that You would come down into our lives.” Or more vividly, “Lord, would You rend the heavens” and split apart the thick clouds? Would You smash those heavy tiles that build up around our hearts and minds? Would You break into the rhythm of our lives, shake us up and so soften us that we can be more easily cast by Your hand?”
Isaiah’s prayer opens an Advent window onto the various difficulties that come in life. Granted, no one wants difficulties, but couldn’t those very hardships be a wake-up call, a summons to go about things in a new way with a new spirit? Couldn’t things like the stress of this season’s busyness and the ever more hectic pace of life carry within them an appeal to do just the opposite, to slow down and listen especially at this time of year? Or in the imagery of this Advent season, might they and things like them be sharpening our sight in the dark for that first glimmer of dawn over the horizon. And for us Vincentians, might not the hard knocks we sometimes take in the service of disadvantaged people be still another chisel chipping away at that outer shell.
How to stay receptive and nimble in the face of the things God is sending our way? How to stay soft in the hands of the potter who would shape us? God partners with us to keep our hearts open and supple, our part being the watchfulness and God’s the disruption.
We move into Advent with hearts open and eyes wide for the coming of our God.