Advent is about to begin next Sunday. Many of us are already preparing our homes and families to observe this season of the Church calendar.
But many of us are wondering: how could we possibly enter into Advent if we are paying attention to this world?
How do we celebrate or "get cozy” or turn towards Christmas when our hearts are broken by Syria’s refugees, by Hong Kong’s protests, by Brexit, by the U.S.A. impeachment proceedings and detention camps, by broken treaties, by one another? When, in response to every crisis, our communities seem splintered and divided even in how to bind up each other’s wounds and careless words are flung like rocks at our own glass houses? When perhaps we are lonely or bored or tired or sick or broke or afraid? When we are grieving and sad?
In these days, celebration can seem callous and uncaring, if not outright impossible.
But here’s the thing: we enter into Advent precisely because we are paying attention.
It’s because everything hurts that we prepare for Advent. It’s because we have stood in hospital rooms and gravesides, empty churches and quiet bedrooms that we resolutely lay out candles and matches.
We don’t get to have hope without having grief. Hope dares to admit that not everything is as it should be, and so if we want to be hopeful, first we have to grieve. First we have to see that something is broken and there is a reason for why we need hope to begin with.
Advent matters, because it’s our way of keeping our eyes and our hearts and our arms all wide open even in the midst of our grief and longing.
The weary world is still waiting in so many ways, in so many hearts, in so many places, for the fullness of the Kin-dom of God to come. Advent is for the ones who know longing.
So here is what we listen for and what we mark and why we wait and light candles and read Scripture in preparation over these long winter nights: that the love, the peace, the joy, the hope is possible and it’s real and it’s breaking in among us already.
God is with us. The prophet Isaiah called out into the wilderness: Energize the limp hands, strengthen the rubbery knees. Tell fearful souls, “Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here, on his way to put things right And redress all wrongs. He’s on his way! He’ll save you!” from Isaiah 35:3-4
Advent is the Church’s way of observing and remembering, of marking the truth we believe that God came to be with us once, and God is still with us, and God is coming again to set all things right.
Advent holds the truth of what is right now up to the truth of what was and what will be and then responds like the Psalmist, I’ll never quit telling the story of your love— how you built the cosmos and guaranteed everything in it. Your love has always been our lives’ foundation, your fidelity has been the roof over our world. (Psalm 89: 2-3 MSG)
It is declaring that we believe it still: God is redeeming all that is broken in us and curing all that is sick in us and bringing all that is dead in us to life.
It’s because of this promise that we can light candles in the pressing and cold darkness, blazing up warmth and light for peace and for hope and for joy and for love.
Every word of God, the Word of God Themself, is true and also it is still coming true.
And Advent reminds us that God seeks us out where we are right now. Not where we should be by our own or anyone else’s estimation.
God seeks us out when we are in exile and when we are suffering, when we are callous and cowardly, when we are more concerned with common sense than faithfulness, when we are fearful and arrogant, when we are lost and broken, when we are sad and alone, when we are traumatized and wondering when the light will start to win, when we feel forgotten and bored and insignificant and tired, when we are wounded and when we are the ones who are wounding.
Oh, yes, in these days, God is seeking us out on that path and in that wilderness.
And the voice of the prophets of Advent cry out in that very place:
Courage! Take heart! God is here, right here! Your love has always been our lives’ foundation, your fidelity has been the roof over our world.
Immanuel, God with us. Incarnate and alive and now.
Don’t be afraid. Prepare your hearts.
Friends, this Advent, I’m happy to tell you that I’ll be sharing a new weekly meditation on Sundays with subscribers. Starting next Sunday December 1, each week will bring brand new content, engaging with each week’s Advent theme of joy, peace, hope, and love, culminating in a Christmas Eve devotion as we head into Christmas. My hope is to create something each week that will invite you into both the longing and the fulfillment of Advent, lighting a few more candles in the darkness together.
A version of the essay above originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine. Image courtesy of Lightstock.