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In his book The Pastor, Eugene Peterson compares the life of a pastor to the role of a harpooner on a nineteenth-century whaling ship. A harpooner was the member of the crew whose task was to throw his harpoon at the whale when the ship was close enough. While the rest of the crew struggled against the wind and waves, trying to get the beast into range, the harpooner waited, conserving his strength for the perfect moment. Peterson quotes Moby Dick in which Melville writes “to insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”
Peterson writes “History is a novel of spiritual conflict. The church is a whaleboat. In such a world, noise is inevitable, and immense energy is expended. But if there is no harpooner in the boat, there will be no proper finish to the chase. Or if the harpooner is exhausted, having abandoned his assignment and become an oarsman, he will not be ready and accurate when it is time to throw his javelin.”
All Christians are called to live a life of waiting. Of course, there will be moments of strife, and we should be ready for them. But we must resist the voices that say we must be always fighting, always struggling. These voices tempt us to use all our strength in some righteous cause, throwing ourselves against the merciless storm of evil in the world. They lead us to believe that we will conquer our enemies, but the truth is that we will only destroy ourselves. Instead, we must learn the truth that God is the mighty warrior, he is the Victorious One. He is strong enough to conquer the darkness, we are not. From time to time, he will command us to action. But most of our life is spent in waiting.
Life is not about doing great things for God. Most of life is simply about being present, waiting upon the Lord, and responding when we’re called. This is what it means to be a harpooner.
Waiting on the Lord, being on guard until the time to act, this is the theme of Advent. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin world adventus, which means “coming.” Members of the Church prepare for first coming of Christ, when he visited us as an infant in the manger. But we also made ready for the second coming of Christ. This normally means entering a time of fasting, prayer, and special acts of devotion.
Today, large parts of the Church have forgotten Advent. We feast constantly, and rarely fast. We’ve confused shopping, parties, and concerts with waiting for Christ. Thankfully, many Christians are rediscovering the beauty of Advent.
There are many ways to practice Advent. One way is to use an Advent devotional. These typically give you scripture and meditations for each day of the season. There are many available, and some are truly exceptional. Two years ago, I wrote an Advent devotional titled The Harpooner. The purpose of this guide is to help the reader rest in the gospel, while preparing for the coming of Christ. If you’d like to use it this year, you can find it in print in the Rabbit Room Store or in ebook format at Amazon.
As I practice Advent this year, by God’s grace I’ll be taking time to wait upon the Lord. I’ll be looking for him, preparing for this call. I’ll need the help of scripture and the words of the saints to do that, and I’ll rely on the sacraments as well. I hope to fast well, so that I might feast well at Christmas. And I hope to be a tiny bit more prepared to meet the Lord when he returns.
Thomas McKenzie is the author of The Anglican Way, a book he describes as a traveler’s guide to the Anglican tradition, as well as The Harpooner, an Advent reader featuring harpoons—how awesome is that. He graduated from the University of Texas and attended seminary at the Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1998 and planted the Church of the Redeemer in Nashville in 2004, where he is the still pastor. He’s also keeps samurai swords in his office, and wears a skull ring.