We are moving through the days of Advent—anticipating the coming of the Anointed One. This, in fact, is what Messiah means—from the Hebrew, “mashiach,” which arises from the practice of anointing kings with oil. From this, we are given the Greek translation-word, Christ: anointed one. In Christian tradition, we generally assimilate this, assuming we comprehend it. At advent, we await the coming-again, the return of the anointed, the Light born into our world—a force, itself, fragmented into smaller and smaller isolated flickers in a world that seems to grow increasingly darker. A world, we could say, where there is less and less lighted room at the inn.
Yet each year, we wait, looking for the advent of this hoped-for thing. We attend services, read familiar scriptures, sing songs we know by heart, and perhaps, walk with lighter, hopeful steps. Then, on Christmas morning, we fall into the frenzy of gift getting and giving, eating and fellowshipping, and retire amid piles of crumpled paper, gift bags and new things to put away. We may, indeed, have loved a little more deeply, felt a little closer to some sense of Holy Abiding, been a little more grateful and more prayerful. Too often, however, the nebulous, hoped-for shift in our individual—and certainly, our collective—spiritual disposition remains hoped-for. We are less changed than grateful for the few days off, less transformed than weary, less inspired than merely hopeful we will simply have what we need to return to the real world and manage the daily movement of our lives.
Maybe because of our ever more troubling times, maybe because of my own growing awareness of longing for spiritual deepening…or maybe, simply, because another year has passed and I’m not getting any younger, I find myself more and more curious about this season in our faith. I look for something known, yet vaguely, something I may have missed or over-looked, like the woman in Luke searching for the lost coin. I search and wonder for myself, but also for us as trans/LGBQI people—people for whom, also, there is no room at the inn.
Traditionally, Christian faith teaches us to wait in the dark times for some future divine intervention: the long-awaited second coming of our Savior, the One who will deliver all of us displaced, disregarded, and down-trodden from travail and oppression. Honestly, this has always perplexed me, mostly because it is so inconsistent with what Jesus seems to have been teaching, by parable and demonstration.
The Jesus of the gospels was not one who waited. Jesus was a doer. Jesus, this Jew from Nazareth, claimed to discern and follow The Way God calls us to, and said repeatedly, “follow me”—an instruction to do as he was doing. Jesus demonstrated how to live the spirit of the Torah: a way to co-create God’s hoped-for world by doing the things that will achieve it. These are things, it seems, the church writ large—not to mention, our culture—has yet to figure out how to do. If it had, there would no longer be folks for whom there is no place at the inn, let alone at the table. Somehow, this follow-me, in the practice of faith, came to be about beliefs and creeds and waiting on the Anointed One: the one who has already come.
This One clearly understood himself to be anointed in the context of his time: a person chosen, designated in some way, and appointed to lead. I’m drawn to pondering Jesus’ use of the word we translate as salvation—a word, since, oddly associated with this far-off, yet-to-come intervention on which we wait; a word concerned, long now, with the state of our eternal souls rather than the state of our world. The Hebrew word for salvation, yeshuah, comes from the root, yasha, which means to be or to make wide. Danger and evil are narrow spaces—places where circumstances are closing-in; where enemies are surrounding; where things are tight. In this context, yasha also means victory. Thus, the Meshiach is the one who creates victory in the narrow place, who saves us from trouble, and delivers us safely into a wide space.
The thing that most gets my attention is a thing we know, at least vaguely, but lose sight of, like the woman with the lost coin: that a man who was himself in the narrow space, for whom there was no room, is the very one who acts, demonstrating a way to salvation in the crushing circumstances of the world.
Perhaps, it’s possible, that real salvation comes, not from some waited-for divine intervention into a far-off future, but in the here-and-now inspiration that moves us to act for our own deliverance. Maybe this is the point of the follow-me. If so, then the waited-for return of the Anointed One has already come, time and again, across time and place, and we were so distracted by looking and waiting, we missed it. If so, then it just might be that we are the anointed one, returned among us, everywhere. Perhaps, if we dared to follow the way of Jesus and do as Jesus did, we would find ourselves delivered, miraculously, into the wide space in our hearts where God truly lives and intervenes.
If so, it may just be the awaited advent is waiting on us.