Normally, we encourage our children not to run in public spaces. But this was a day unlike any other.
As I’ve shared with you, our extended family has recently celebrated the addition of a baby. My sister, Susan, her husband, Jeff, and their seven-year-old son, Harrison, became the foster family for a baby girl earlier this year, committing to love her fully and vulnerably until it was determined by the appropriate authorities what was best for her. And then came the news that what was best for her, and for all of them, was to become forever family. On National Adoption Day, November 17, Ruby Rose Snow — beloved of God — became their daughter and sister, as she also became niece, cousin, granddaughter.
The Palm Beach County Courthouse was abuzz that day, as over 20 children were being formally adopted as part of this National Adoption Day recognition. Claiming the joy of the moment, the County sponsored a large party complete with magic, face-painting, balloon animals, and loads of free food for all the family and friends gathered. Everyone in the building — from the security officers, to the clerks, to the social workers, to the honorable judges — seemed overwhelmed at the uncharacteristic jubilation that filled the courthouse. “It’s our favorite day of the year,” several said as we moved from security check, to cafeteria, to elevator, to courtroom. Once out of the courtroom and into open space, our restless children ran down the airy corridor with their Sunday-best untucked and unkempt. Reflexively, we called after, “Don’t run!” A judge walking by paused and said with an easy smile and a longing gaze, “If you don’t mind, let them run. We never see children running here.”
At certain extraordinary moments in our lives, we see it. Unrestrained joy in a setting of grave disappointment. Hope released in a place where it’s been so long that we have forgotten what it looks like. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “a great light” seen among those who have “dwelled in darkness.” Christmas is that glimpse. In the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, we experience that moment, so hopeful, joyous and sublime that it is jarring, disorienting, uncharacteristic.
But that extraordinary moment is preceded by another. It’s a silent moment. A moment of waiting, even wondering what will happen. It’s a moment of great anticipation, to the point of longing and even fear. Frederick Buechner has compared it to that moment of silent readiness as the house lights dim and the conductor raises baton just before the concerto begins. It’s the moment you place your hand on the door and take a reflective pause before you enter a room for a meeting that will change your life. It’s the moment my sister stood in a courthouse elevator, holding her then foster daughter against her racing heart while waiting for the digital floor number to register “3,” where Courtroom 11A is located. It’s that beat in which we all caught our breath, as after pleasantries and formalities a blissful judge smiled to say, “Congratulations to you and your daughter, Ruby Rose Snow.” In Buechner’s words, “The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment” (“Advent” in Whistling in the Dark).
In this Advent season, I pray we all catch a breath, recognize the beating of our hearts and the rhythm of our lives, and pause at the door that opens into the hope and joy we don’t always see here. If we do, it will help us to more fully understand the extraordinary thing that’s about to happen — a baby received in vulnerable and loving arms, children running unrestrained, and all of us finding a way home.
Window Gazing is a monthly word from our Senior Pastor, Alan Sherouse, that can be found in Connections, our monthly newsletter. To read and subscribe to this month’s Connections click here.