In the early years of our marriage, I was often frustrated by the differences between my husband and me.
A good example was our differing approaches to housecleaning. I was raised with Saturday morning being the family time to clean up, and was convinced that it was best to train the children to do the work first and play later.
My husband, on the other hand, wanted to enjoy Saturday morning as a morning off after his week of work. He left home early each weekday morning and enjoyed the leisure, on Saturday, of an extra cup of coffee, a newspaper, playtime with the children and no structured agenda. The work could be done later.
'Strengthen your hearts for the coming of the Lord is near.'
I was convinced mine was the better way; that I was right to want that particular ethic in our home and was offended by his not buying into my way and supporting it.
Over the (many) years since, I have come to see how often that dynamic plays out not just in marriage, but in workplaces, schools, community groups and Church. Someone has an idea about the way it "should" be, often with good reasons and good motives, but their view is not shared by others, who may have other points of view that also come from good reasons and good motives.
The problem isn't the different views; the problem is the attitude of personal certainty that leads to judgments, offence taken and ultimately divisions.
I wonder if this is precisely what Jesus is referring to in the Gospel this Sunday. He tells the disciples to report to John what they have seen: "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them."
How could anyone argue with those results! And yet he adds, "And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me."
What offence could possibly be taken to healing and freedom? Perhaps the offence of his not doing it the right way. He did it on the Sabbath, he didn't follow the rules. He did it for sinners, for those who didn't deserve it. He risked creating trouble from the Roman authorities by his actions. He claimed to be God's son.
Those who were convinced they were right about how things should be done would judge him and his actions, would take offence and turn away.
Advent is a time to try again to get it right, to wait with expectant hope for the transformation that is promised, longing for the freedom and reconciliation that is God's gift to his people.
Advent is the time to seek the gift of seeing anew the ways of the Lord, to surrender our hearts so that they may be changed. We do not need the false security of certainty, of being right. We can trust ourselves to the mystery of God's ways, for God himself is our Saviour.
(Kathleen Giffin firstname.lastname@example.org)