Friday of the Second Week of Advent
I have often heard "prosperity evangelists" quote today’s first reading and psalm. They say, "See? God intends for you to be rich and prosper. All you have to do is obey God’s commands and you will be healthy, wealthy, and wise, with trouble-free children, a long life, and a peaceful death." What an attractive message! It’s no wonder they draw millions of adherents (and millions of donors).
But we are in Advent, awaiting the celebration of God’s incarnation in human flesh. That incarnation seems to contradict the prosperity evangelists at every turn. Who obeyed God’s commands more perfectly than Jesus? Yet did it result in a life of privilege? Did our incarnate God have lots of money, faithful friends, success in everything he tried, a large family of perfect children, and a long and happy life before he died peacefully in the arms of those he loved?
Perhaps we humans misinterpret. Perhaps we impose our own thinking on God’s, and hear what we hope to hear. It would be a human thing to do, like the people in the gospel who wanted John the Baptist and Jesus to conform to their preconceived ideas of how a prophet or a Messiah ought to act. But true wisdom and genuine discipleship don’t work that way. God doesn’t promise us an easy life. God promises faithfulness, no matter what life brings.
Today, as I mark 55 years on this earth, I bring to God all the messiness and pain of my life as well as the joy. I have known miscarriage, being widowed at a young age, financial uncertainty, and a host of other sufferings. Yet I have also known the deep love of two wonderful men, the births of three children, the strength of trusted friendships, and a vast array of joys which our language is inadequate to describe. Through it all and beneath it all, I experience a different type of prosperity – the quietly flowing river of God’s love and grace. No matter what happens, that river will sustain me, carry me, strengthen me, and hold me, until the day when the embrace becomes total and I return to the waters from which I came.
This is not empty sentiment for me. I am spending my birthday in a hospital, where my husband just had surgery to remove what we hope is a benign mass. Within a few days we will know what may or may not lurk within that tumor, and it is a frightening time. Daily, hourly, sometimes by the minute, I find myself returning to that river for sustenance, letting my tears flow unto it and drawing courage from its depths.
I have no illusions that my obedience to God will "save" me from being widowed again or erase all difficulties from my life. I simply trust the river to keep flowing, and I try to allow myself to flow with it rather than fight the current. If I can do that, I know God will lead me on the path where I should go, that my name will never be blotted out from God’s presence, and that I will have the light of life even in the midst of darkness. That is prosperity indeed.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.