Haste (Fourth Sunday in Advent)
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“Hurry up! There’s only one day left ‘till Christmas!” If we haven’t heard those words, we’ve probably thought them. This is a time of year when there never seems to be enough time, there’s always stuff left to do, and we’re always hurrying to finish stuff up so we’ll be ready when the day arrives.
Even our Gospel text this morning seems to reflect this frenetic sense of urgency – “Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country.” It seems that even Mary’s pre-Christmas preparation involved traveling to visit relatives and being in a hurry to get there! Indeed, “haste” seems to be a theme in Luke’s Christmas story. Mary went with haste to visit Elizabeth; and the shepherds later go with haste to see the infant Jesus.
And yet, there’s more to this “haste” than just hurrying up. The Greek word that gets translated as “haste” can indeed mean that you do something with speed. But it’s more than just moving quickly. “Haste” means that you do something with a sense of:
- Purpose – that is, the thing you’re doing has purpose and meaning; it’s not just something you do so that you can move on to something else … (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, Mary feels a real need and purpose to spend time with Elizabeth before they both give birth; there’s meaning in that relationship and in that journey; she’s not just checking something off a list that needs to be done…)
- Expectation – that something new and decisive is going to happen; often, our “hurrying” is to get things in place so that everything is “just like it used to be”; we don’t really look for anything “new” in our Christmas haste; but that’s not what Mary or the shepherds were looking for; they journeyed with a sense that God was doing something new and life changing for them and for the whole world; and their “haste” was done in expectation of being part of that new thing…
- Urgency – and sometimes, “urgency” and “hurrying” can mean the same thing to us; and yet, for people like Mary and shepherds, “haste” wasn’t so much about speed as about the realization that NOW was the time that God was acting, and they couldn’t simply sit back and be spectators; they needed to get up and be active participants right now because God was doing a new thing right now…
Sometimes, as we hasten to get ready for our Christmas celebrations, we just end up hurrying from one thing to the other. And when Christmas Day is finally over, we all usually need a nap, and sometimes we’re just grateful that all the hurrying around is over.
But soon, there will soon be other times that we have to hurry up and get ready. There will be more deadlines to meet. And as soon as we hit the new year, for most of us, the frenetic pace of our rushing around will resume.
So on this last Sunday before Christmas, our Gospel reading reminds us that “haste” isn’t just about being in a hurry, even and especially when we feel God is calling us to do something in haste.
Instead, even in those moments of our lives when we feel a need to make haste, God calls us, like Mary and the shepherds, not simply to “hurry up.”
Instead, God calls us, even in the midst of our hurrying, to reflect on the purpose and meaning of the activities we’re involved in. God calls us, even in the swirl of activity, to expect God to be doing something new and life changing. And God calls us, even when we’re focused on speed, to invest ourselves in the moment, so that like Mary and the shepherds, we don’t miss out being part of the new things that God is doing in our lives and in the life of the world.