A friend of mine often complained that she felt stuck in life: stuck in unfulfilling jobs, stuck in less than ideal relationships - emotionally, socially, spiritually STUCK. When I was in my twenties, I had a difficult time understanding how she was feeling. However, as I've gotten older I have begun to understand what she might have meant.
Sooner or later, I suppose, we can all get stuck in life. It may happen when we are still seeking to discover our personal identities as young adults. Or it can happen later, as we approach the middle of life, looking to gather up that which we have learned and accomplished so that we can move forward in our lives and vocations as better, wiser people. For others this sort of existential experience of "stuckness" might even wait until later years, leaving one wondering whether or not one has accomplished anything of lasting value in life.
In my experience and the experiences of those whose lives I share in ministry and in other relationships, such periods of emotional, spiritual, social and physical jamming up can only be resolved through a crisis of some sort. Although our media driven consciousness teaches us that a crisis is normally a bad thing, we ought to remind ourselves that at its etymological roots a "crisis," is, in reality, a value-neutral and very necessary event.
Our English word "crisis" comes directly from the biblical Greek word krisis which is most often translated as "judgment" in modern Bibles. At its most basic level, however, krisis simply means "selection" or "choice." So from the linguistic perspective of the Greek Bible, a crisis might be something as simple as the choice between this brand of laundry detergent and another brand.
Admittedly, as we walk the aisles of our mega-supermarkets, or as we peruse the selections at a salad bar or pizza buffet, we may have moments of indecision – seconds in which we are stuck between pepperoni, or veggie, garbanzo beans or kidney beans – but we hardly think of such instances as crises. Yet, in a very basic way, they are. Perhaps remembering this when we reach more significant crises in our lives might help us stay calm and feel less frozen in the stress of the moment.
On a larger scale too, we can be reminded that as various media outlets spread the word of woe about the health care crisis, or the economic crisis, or the environmental crisis, that all we need to do – in fact all we can do – is make choices. Choices end crises, they get us unstuck. And although they will inevitably lead us to more moments of crisis, we are as individuals, as communities, as nations, ushered through them as children of God.
From a historical perspective, we may see this process play out tragically at first, but ultimately for the good. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor sixty-eight years ago today cannot be seen in a positive light, nor can the war which inevitably and necessarily followed it. But some of the outcomes of World War II – the creation of the United Nations, close ties between our nation and our former enemies, the justice meted out in war crimes trials, and restitution and apologies given to slave laborers and interned populations who suffered during the war – are positive.
Advent is a season during which we in the church are reminded of our communal "stuckness." Through the words of the prophets and psalmists, through the teachings of the apostles and the words of and about Jesus recorded by the evangelists, we are repeatedly reminded that the world was stuck in sin, stuck in rebellion to the will of God, stuck in the way things always were. And then, in the midst of this "stuckness" came Godself, in the form of a child born to an unwed mother in a backwater town of the Roman Empire. "The word became flesh and lived among us" (John 1:14) and the world was stuck no more.
The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, are, taken together, the ultimate crisis – the ultimate judgment, the ultimate choice. And that choice, which is and was God's alone to make, is a "yes" to the cosmos, to creation, and to we who have been made in God's image and redeemed as sisters and brothers of Christ.
We are not stuck, we are loved, and we are redeemed and sustained by this love through all possible physical, mental, emotional and spiritual crises. This is not only Good News for Advent, it is Good News for all seasons.
The Rev. Jeff Johnston and his family live in Morton, Ill., where he is pastor of Community United Church of Christ.