On Sunday morning I shuffled into church alone and very, very gloomy. My husband had volunteered to stay home with crying boys #1 and #2, and I had fled the scene with my daughter, wondering all the way what good it would do me to go and inflict my miserable self on a community filled with Christmas cheer. I had, however, promised to give someone a ride to church, and so bunking church was not an option. I drove. I arrived. I grouched.
I’m not feeling the joy of Christmas right now. The beautifully decorated room with its proclamations of joy and exulting poinsettias were a little jarring to my Eeyore-self. We started singing songs, and I tried hard to focus on the words I knew my soul needed not just to sing but to absorb: songs about hope and peace and a good God being at the helm of it all.
But my heart was heavy, carrying more burdens than our souls are meant to bear: broken marriages, moms with toddlers grieving the deaths of their husbands, Ebola, and ISIS, and the stinging betrayal of Bill Cosby’s rape allegations. The hurt and anger and brokenness of Ferguson, the tragedy of children being sold for sex right in our community.
Everything is so very, very broken.
I stood in church, wondering what in the world I was doing singing about joy when I could feel the darkness pressing against me so heavily. How could I possibly begin to prepare myself, or my family, for Advent, feeling such a terrible dearth of Christmas cheer?
I considered how terribly unprepared I was for Advent. And then it occurred to me that, just maybe, this was the best possible place to prepare for Advent.
“long lay the world, in sin and error pining”
Advent rehearses the history of those waiting for the God’s promised King: pining in darkness, acutely aware of sin and error and the devastation they bring… no, we bring… all around. ‘Pining’ was the perfect descriptor of where my soul was at: longing for things to be different, needing a hero.
We sang and sang, and a precious family got up to light the first advent candle: hope.
“long lay the world, in sin and error pining…. ’til He appeared”
The grief we feel for the brokenness of the world is a real and raw thing. But, as 1 Thessalonians says, “we do not grieve as those without hope.” Somehow, Advent is a call to me to not let my eyes become too accustomed to the darkness all around, but to train my eyes on the Light which has entered our darkness.
God has not abandoned our world. He did not forget his promises to Israel: he sent Jesus. And he has not abandoned our world now. Contrary to those who say that Jesus has gone to heaven and we are simply biding time in this cursed world until we join him, the scripture teaches that Jesus is returning to this world to finish the rescue he began two thousand years ago.
I sat through the sermon and felt my hope bolstered: in this time of waiting we are not just called to be faithful people, we are called to be people of faith. Advent it not just about being faithful to do the right things, and to do them in the right way. It is about being people who believe in a God whose love affair with this world and us crazy creatures continues through the darkest centuries.
His people waited in the darkness, and He came.
And so, this Advent, I’m waiting in the darkness. He came. And He’s coming again.
Photo credit: Rosipaw 332/365 first advent (Flickr Creative Commons), edited by Bronwyn Lea