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An interesting tale…

There once was a factory worker who frequently left work pushing a wheelbarrow full of sawdust. Each time, the security guard would carefully search through the sawdust convinced the man was stealing something. Each time, he found nothing. Finally, after years of this ritual, as they both were retiring, he asked the man what he had been doing all those years.

“Stealing wheelbarrows,” was the answer…

It can be right in front of us, but if we don’t know what we are looking for, we will miss it.

So, too, I think, with the season of Advent. The kind of hopeful waiting this season calls for is to hold our dream for this world and the coming of God’s kingdom so clearly before our vision that we cannot miss the coming of our God. This is why our weekday readings return time and time again to the book of Isaiah. Perhaps like no other Old Testament prophet, Isaiah names clearly the vision for which he longs – a redeemed Israel, gathered from exile, being light for the nations and hope for the earth. Natural enemies lying down together. Swords beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. The poor being judged with justice, the land’s afflicted receiving right decisions. A mountain upon which there is no harm or ruin.

When Jesus spoke of the kingdom, he used images to describe it – a man sowing seeds, a fisherman sorting fish from his net, a bit of yeast, a tiny seed. And he taught us that the kingdom of God is already in our midst – kind of like the wheelbarrow. But if we focus on the sawdust, we’ll never see it. And if we are not expecting God to show up in the middle of our gift giving, our holiday feasting, our acts of charity and justice, then guess what folks? We’ll miss what is before our eyes.

This brings us back to first of the major tasks of this Advent season: The work of learning to see. For the believer, our forgiveness of those who wrong us is not simply an act of kindness to them, but a decision that makes Christ more present to the world. The letter that we write to urge our congress not to balance the budget on the backs of those who have the least sway and say in politics, becomes a moment of solidarity with our suffering Lord. The sacrifice we make so as to give alms not only helps the specific poor who are the beneficiaries of our gift, but begins the process of reversing this world’s poverty forever. Advent hope demands this kind of seeing in us and this kind of action from us. This year, don’t miss the gold because of the glitter, the treasure because of the tinsel or the wheelbarrow because of the sawdust.

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