Advent is for the ones who know longing
Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.
On that particular Sunday, my two then-little nieces were performing in their church Christmas pageant. I love to watch Christmas pageants and so few churches do them anymore (for good reason: that amount of work is no joke). One little red-haired lamb and one tentative angel with tinsel-trimmed wings stole the show for me. But our littlest girl1 wasn’t known for her meek and quiet spirit: she was a ferocious mover-and-shaker, none of this silent night, holy night business for her. So I found myself out in the foyer, watching Christmas through a glass. When she settled down, we sneaked into the back of the darkened sanctuary to finish the service there.
The children on stage sang at the top of their lungs, beautiful in their simple costumes, surrounded by hay bales and the glow of parental iPhone screens recording their song, and in that moment, the grief of longing nearly overwhelmed me.
Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension,” I always think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus while naming that we are still waiting here for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.
Would we be so filled with joy at His arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?
If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.
As I learned in particular through our miscarriages in those years, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. I was learning it again in those days in particular when so many are grieving and angry, sad and wounded from the pain of living in this world as it stands right now. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.
We begin the season of Advent this coming weekend with the entire worldwide Church, we’re waiting together.
I’m waiting for all things to be made right.
Aren’t we all?
I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.
People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I often feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. Ferguson. Indigenous women in Canada who are targeted for abuse and attacks in such devastating numbers. Syria. Ebola in west Africa. One of our oldest and best friends lost his beautiful wife to cancer this year, it’s his first Christmas alone with their two little girls.
I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to Themself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older.
When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy! Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent.
Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kin-dom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need peace, I have learned to watch for him.
Advent is for the ones who know longing.
So during the humble Christmas pageant, the tears were sliding down my face as the children sang their innocent songs, I was standing on the edges in the darkness in my sadness even in the glow of lights.
“Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”
My daughter began to dance in the darkness. She raised her hands over her head, and twirled slowly, watching her hands move by the glow of candlelight. She sang along, off key without words but quietly now. I picked her up and crushed her to my breast. She wrapped her pudgy arms around my neck, “My mumma” she said, clinging tight.
I began to turn slowly with her in my arms, swaying, both of us quietly singing a little off-key. I buried my face into her ringlets and held on.
Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other, pray, and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.
I wrote that essay almost ten years ago now, but it’s been offline for a while. But every year, I’m asked about it, and so I thought I’d re-share it here at Field Notes so that it’s available once again.
And here are a few links to the two other most-requested essays at this time of year, so they’re easy for you to find, too.
And of course, a brand new Advent series starts here at Field Notes this weekend. It’s called Reimagining Advent.2 I plan to explore a few of the ways that God invites us to repair our imagination from reclaiming traditions to exploring new practices to participation in the repair of the world as we draw nearer to Christmas together.
In case you missed these recent Field Notes:
My Favourite Books of 2023: The faves for fiction and nonfiction books + announcing our upcoming Advent series
Good morning!: We are often testifying everyday resurrections in the mornings and the daily meals of our lives.
🍲 We're in our homeyness season now, folks: Let’s wander in from the cold together, eh?
Jesus Feminist, ten years later: Behind the scenes stories, my own evolving journey, a few regrets, precious memories, and our shared testimony
Ordinary Work: All I know to do when I don’t know what to do.
At the time! Another little girl came along a few years later but this was in the years when I had three babies in four years. So Evelynn is the baby in the story.
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