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"What Do I Do Now?" by Charles Smith

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Three: the Benedictus

Tuesday, December 19

2 Kings 2:9-22

"As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, 'Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!' But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces." (2 Kings 2:11, 12)

As I sit in the darkened hospital room, the glow from the incubators illuminating the faces of the babies I hold in each arm, softly humming tunes that I hope will one day become songs of meaning and lingering memory for them, I think about endings and beginnings. The chaos from the moments before, the fervor and monumental effort required to bring life into this world has faded. The nurses have finished their vitalizing work and left me alone with the newest people I have ever met.

Up to this point I have mostly been a spectator (not complaining), and full credit goes to my spouse Stephanie Swanson for making this peaceful moment possible. But now, like Churchill, I find myself at the end of the beginning. And I’m not quite sure what to do.

This might be how Elisha was feeling in the moments after he witnessed a flaming chariot, pulled by equally flammable horses, descend from the heavens and ascend again in a whirlwind with Elijah, the man Elisha devoted his entire life to following, in tow. That has to be the most dramatic way to end a conversation in history. In that moment Elisha may have been thinking, “What do I do now?” He knew immediately that his life would never be as it was before. Elisha had to find a beginning in this ending, an exposition in the midst of this conclusion.

Advent is a season caught between beginnings and endings. We willingly celebrate the birth of a new life, a life that will change the world, while ultimately knowing, in intimate detail, how that life will end. On the night our twins were born I knew my life had changed forever. They didn’t descend in a chariot of fire but I knew all the same. Their birth was a reminder of a truth I often try to forget: that each day is a chance to start anew, to grieve an ending, and find hope in a beginning. The Benedictus is a canticle of praise, a blessing from a father for his child. We have opportunities each day to sing songs of blessing and peace to all around us as we revel in the space between endings and beginnings.

Posted by Charles Smith at 6:00 AM
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