Every year my birthday falls right in the middle of the Christmas season. The association of my own birth's close proximity to the birth of our Lord's is forever commemorated in my middle name, Noelle. My birthday celebrations have incorporated all sorts of holiday festivities from Christmas caroling to ornament decorating, ice skating and -- in my shopping obsessed middle school years -- a birthday party at the mall. Yet it was not until this year that I recognized the beauty of celebrating another year of life in the midst of the advent season. Each birthday -- particularly in the years since graduating high school -- I have reflected, in awe, on the ways the year played out differently than I could have perceived the birthday before. As I receive birthday wishes from across the country and around the world, I am reminded of the hundreds of wonderful people the Lord has brought into my life in my short twenty-three years as He's brought me from city to city, all over the world. Each person, from the short-term acquaintances to the long-term close friends, has played a part in helping me become the woman I am today.
With this birthday, I find myself in a phase of life quite different from any year before. My plans are no longer bound to the academic year. I am free of the constraints of debt, not committed to any relationship.I have the freedom to live and work where I want now and to move on when I so desire. Yet in this freedom I still find myself prone to anxiety as I desire to responsibly navigate the balance between contentedness in my present situation and the active pursuit of God's next step for me -- to live a life in active anticipation.
Advent is a full season dedicated to active anticipation: as we prepare to celebrate the first coming of the Messiah, we also reflect on the ways in which our lives are a continual preparation for His second return. We acknowledge that we live with the freedom we received through Christ's death on the cross, yet in the pursuit of Christ's restoration made complete. We live in the daily tension of the already but not yet. And it is in the same manner that we live out the active anticipation of Advent that I am to navigate the active anticipation of my next steps in life -- through participation in the global and historical communion of Saints, aka by living in community with all of you.
One of my theology professors at Wheaton told his class that the best way to examine whether we are following God's will is not to pray for decisiveness in the specifics, but to examine our lives in light of Micah 6:8:
"He has shown you, o man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
"If you are doing each of these things," the professor told us, "you are living within God's will -- whatever the phase of life. But this cannot be done alone. These can only be done in community." No matter where we live or work, no matter the specifics of God's next step for us, it is by participating in the community around us that we encourage each other on in justice, love, and mercy; that we live out our active anticipation.
So as I embark on another new year of life, and as we together finish out this season of Advent, I thank you all for the role you have played these past twenty-three years of my life and I pray that together we can continue to live out the tension of our active anticipation, living lives of justice, love, and mercy until the beautiful day of restoration for which we earnestly await.