Advent 1B – Unforeseen possibilities

One of my favorite TV shows was “The Closer” which ran from 2005-2012. The star character was LAPD Assistant Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson who headed up the Major Crimes Division. Leading a colorful team of crack detectives, she solved the mystery of who committed the crime and almost always closed her case with the offender’s confession.

Often, Brenda and her team had investigated all of the leads and clues and still didn’t know who had done it or why. Only a chance remark or behavior, heard or seen at the 11th hour in the context of her personal life gave her the crucial insight. Sometimes no words were needed. Like the time she was wiping off the bathroom mirror which her husband’s shower had steamed up. An “aha!” silently widened her eyes as she saw the connection to her case and solved the mystery.

We are beginning Advent – a season which has very little mystery left. Sometimes it seems like a surprise birthday party which doesn’t really surprise anyone. We wait quietly in the dark waiting for a guest of honor who we all know has already arrived. Two thousand years ago.

I found a different approach to Advent in the work of theologian Monica Coleman. She says that God and humanity are partners in the work of contending with evil and transforming the world. It is not up to God alone. We are indispensable members of God’s team.

We don’t always feel like empowered team members when we are facing evil and suffering. It can seem like we are on our own, knowing only that everything we have tried has fallen short. It is tempting to play at the surprise birthday party game and wait for God to show up and fix it.

But it is not up to God alone.

In her 2008 book, Making a Way Out of No Way, Coleman choreographs the interaction between God and humanity when the team is working for a better world. She describes four movements, the first of which is “God’s presentation of unforeseen possibilities.”

When we are contending with suffering and evil and feeling despair or inadequacy, God offers us possibilities. And not just one. God offers us many.

“God contains all the possibilities of the world and offers them to us based on the particularities of our context.” [1]

Coleman says that God considers the context of our personalities, our abilities, our feelings and our circumstances. God knows who we are. As the speaker in the first reading reminds God, “We are the clay and you are the potter.”

The God who knows us also calls to us and offers us possibilities which we could not have imagined on our own. Indeed, God fills our world with the possibilities. Maybe they are in a dream or an insight. Maybe in a friend’s comment or something we overheard a stranger say. Maybe in the way the clouds moved or the musical phrase played. Maybe in scripture, or a poem or what the grandchild said. Maybe in the connection we made when we wiped the steam off the bathroom mirror.

The God who knows us also calls to each of us and fills our world with unforeseen possibilities. It is for us to be alert and open to them, confident that none of them is wrong. Each will help in some way, large or small. And any of them will bring some newness into our lives, inevitably changing what lies beyond.

Next week: Advent 2 and Movement 2: Human agency.


[1] Monica A. Coleman, Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology, (Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2008) Digital: Kindle location 849.

Photo by Ben Hoskyn on Unsplash