There is a journey sewn into the fabric of meaningful life. Our lives take us from one place to another. Abraham understood this—he stepped out into the unknown from his hometown of Haran. So did Moses—he led his people out of bondage in Egypt through the wilderness wandering to the promised land. But Joseph and Mary also searched for a suitable place for their child to be born, and they searched deep into the dark night. And the shepherds and wise men followed a special star to find life’s greatest treasure.
Our own lives also are a journey, a quest, to find answers to life’s persistent questions. But which questions? Consider the vast array. They range from the seemingly superficial at one end of the spectrum, like: How can I entertain and distract myself? Do you think anyone can see my bald spot? How can I get rid of my slice? To questions around the concerns of survival and security, like: How can I increase my income? What is the safest investment in these turbulent economic times? When and where will I retire? To questions of power and influence, like: How can I rise to the top of this corporation? How can I get my way on this committee? To the seemingly more profound, questions like: What is eternal? What is the value of my life for others?
To identify the questions that lead us on in our lives is to expose the depth and direction of our lives. Advent is the time when we are invited to consider the questions that are instigating and leading our life journeys. Finding the right questions, the best and deepest questions, makes an incredible difference in terms of where our faith will take us.
I have seen the bumper sticker that reads, “Jesus is the answer.” I see the profound truth to that simple and straightforward statement. But the questions that precede that answer are equally critical and tell us a great deal about the life of the believer who is making that claim. And we must look deep within ourselves to see if our questions are worthy of this cosmic event that is about to unfold.
Are we looking for safety and security? Are we looking to stand out in life in order to be valued and admired by others? Are we positioning ourselves in life so that we can get our fair share of the pie? Jesus, I suppose, can help us with all these kinds of questions. And they are reasonable and legitimate ways to use our faith.
But if we want to get to the essence of the message Jesus brought to life—if we want to take up his call to us and travel the path he forges for us—if we want something more than the shallow promise of smooth sailing and success—we have to ask the deepest questions, the right questions.
The best questions will bring us the deepest and most profound experience of Christmas. And the best questions take us beyond the demands of safety and security, beyond the demands of recognition and acclaim, beyond the demands for excessive power and control. The best questions have to do with the purpose of our lives for others. The deepest questions concern the ways in which our lives might embody love, forgiveness, and self-giving.
At this deeper level, like every other level, yes, Jesus is the answer. But here at the level of the deepest questions, it begins to dawn on us that Jesus will not take away or spare us of all of life’s difficulty and disappointment. Maybe we don’t have to be constantly entertained and distracted. At this level, we begin to realize that Jesus will not necessarily bring us enduring wealth and success. Maybe our achievements of money and power are not as important as we once believed. At this level, we begin to understand that Jesus will not keep us from illness, aging, and, ultimately, death. Maybe, even though we our lives do not stretch on forever, we are a part of something that was never born and will never die. Here at the level of the deepest questions, Jesus can bring us to life’s ultimate meaning and purpose—even, or especially, as we ourselves struggle to keep our heads above water.
So, here we are in Advent awaiting the birth of Christ, God’s fullest revelation of the meaning and purpose of life. But in order to receive this miracle at the deepest level, we must ask the right questions. This requires finding the time and place for self-examination; this requires an open and vulnerable heart; this requires letting go of the lesser questions in order to grasp the greater questions. This is the work of Advent. This is how we prepare the Way of the Lord.