During the season of Advent, he always makes his appearance. We wait with bated breath as the readings of the church year turn our focus from the promised end of all things and the coming of the new heavens and new earth to the voice of John the Baptist. His voice, though, is not sweet and calming. It does not fit with the joyful theme of this time of year. There is no peace on earth and goodwill toward men. No, John is like a bull in a China shop. He shakes things up with an urgent call for repentance. “Repent,” he says, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

Advent is the season of arrival; the anticipation of the coming of God. We count down on the Advent Wreath each Sunday as we light another candle and move closer to Christmas, to the great arrival of God all those years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. We celebrate the fact that our God is not a God who stays far off, is only a dream or an empty promise. No, our God is a God who comes. He advents with His people. He arrives and His arrival changes things.

He fumbled with the pages flipping back and forth, trying to find the little black letters that synced with what he recited in his head. Focusing almost too hard, he could not quite catch up to where everyone else seemed to be, because he could not concentrate. Little monsters behind his eyes swayed his attention from the songs of praise filling his ears, to her exposed ankle just beyond his reach, to an unfamiliar word in the heavy book that weighted his hands, to the breath of perfume far enough away which he could not quite savor.

Cobblestone over cobblestone. Pacing steadily over the settled dirt of a thousand, maybe a million other sandals. Cracks filled up by particles of beach, mountain and desert, pressed deep into wrinkles the of this ancient street. My own black shoe powdered with the remnants of another world, stirred for a moment by every step I take. Smoky ashy remnants of a sudden volcanic eruption, withering olive leaves rotting in a quiet garden, pulverized rubble of a temple where God once dwelt. Dull, chalky, dirty history walking along the path with me, on me, part of me during my short morning walk.