Anticipating Compassion's arrival

December 3rd, 2018

Amid the songs and smells, jingles and bells, evergreen and wishing-you-wells, Advent affords freedom to reimagine our lives from the expansiveness of divine compassion. Not just our lives but more importantly, our experience together as a human collective. It invites us to attend to the hopes we have, the hurts we feel, and how much we long for the healing of a broken world. Reconnecting us to the compassionating movement of a spacious God, Advent gives us time to notice compassion’s stirring within and some spiritual elbow room to envision more capacious lives.

Compassion is the heart of God. More specifically, as the Hebrew scriptures see it, compassion is the womb of Yahweh, the organically creative divine space where life itself is conceived, grows, and with labored stirring, births something not there before. Perhaps this is why the endless life-giving creativity of compassion summons us to repentance during the Advent season. Not the kind of repentance where you see yourself as fallen and corrupt, but an authentic kind that takes you beyond constrictive, isolating settings of the mind to see yourself and others as carriers of divine dignity and sacred worth.

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If we choose, embracing the season of Advent will provide the opportunity to begin to see the world from God’s vast perspective of “compassionating” welcome and inclusion. As our minds open and hearts expand, we will recognize that each wall we have built to keep others out can now be dismantled, every line we have drawn to determine who’s in can now be erased. 

In her poem “Touched by an Angel,” Maya Angelou writes, “We, unaccustomed to courage, exiles from delight, live coiled in shells of loneliness until love leaves its high holy temple and comes into our sight to liberate us into life.” Here in Advent, we are moved by compassion to anticipate just what love’s liberating arrival among us looks like. And once alerted — and perhaps a bit surprised — that love comes attached to the name Immanuel, we are called to take the gift of our lives and immerse ourselves in the reality of God with us. After all, if Immanuel teaches us anything, it convinces us that compassion has skin on it and compels us to have skin in the game. Your skin. My skin. Our skin.

Compassion’s name is Immanuel, God with us and God among us. Compassion has other names too, like yours and mine, and like Peter and Prisha, Asif and Amanda, Chris and Chin-sun, Miguel and Melissa. In other words, unguarded and powerless, plunged into the depths of being human, Immanuel’s coming happened, is happening, and clothed within the vulnerable skin of all of humanity, will continue to happen. Imagine the advent of such a thing. 

This article originally appeared in the monthly Abingdon Leadership newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter here. For more information about Gregg and his work, visit at

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