Advent 1: Hope
I’m a week behind on Advent (not to mention the last six weeks of silence on the blog). But every year, I find Advent more and more meaningful. These four Sundays leading up to Christmas invite us into the tension between the already and the not yet, darkness and light, sorrow and joy.
Christmas can often seem like a season where we have to be jolly and bright, pretending that everything is fine so we can create perfect family memories. But Advent says: there is darkness, and pain, and sorrow, and waiting, and longing. The answer has come and is coming, but the longing remains.
In the first week of Advent, we light the candle of hope, or the candle of the prophets. This candle reminds us that even in the darkness, we can see the light of Christ. It may be small, or distant, or unclear; Isaiah could not clearly see the great light for the people in darkness. But the darkness does not overcome the light. In fact, in the darkness, we come to appreciate the light more than we would in the day.
The past two weeks have been especially full of darkness for me. Nothing beyond the ordinary tragedies of human existence: a friend who lost her mother, another friend who received a serious diagnosis, my own struggle against the fog of depression. But the pain and the sorrow, the longing for things to be different, have loomed large as my Advent season begins.
I’m conditioned, by years of consumerism and Hallmark sentiments, to feel that I’m doing something wrong if I don’t enter December with joy and anticipation and a list of fun family activities. Weeping angrily over suffering isn’t precisely photogenic, nor is cocooning myself in blankets while my kids fight over Christmas music.
But the hard parts of life don’t just vanish because we put the lights on the tree and hang the stockings on the mantel. The suffering and longing remains, even if we try to bury it under tinsel and trips to see Santa.
Celebrating Advent, though, creates space for us to feel both the sorrow and the joy. Advent acknowledges the pain and suffering in our lives, and then points us to hope, to light, to life, to the child in the manger.
Advent means that we can attend a funeral one day, shedding tears and grieving with friends, and take the kids Christmas shopping the next, delighting in their excitement and joy. Advent means that we cry angry tears over the friend diagnosed with an illness and then joyful tears as the candlelight spreads during the Christmas Eve service.
Advent says: you are waiting and longing for your Savior — and behold, he is coming. Make the paths straight, the mountains and valleys level, because our hope is not in vain.
The prophets of old clung to this truth just as we still cling to it. We hope, not because all is already as it should be, but because we know the world is not yet made right. We hope because we believe in the advent of the One who will make all things new, wipe away every tear, heal every ill.
And so we light this first advent candle, the candle of hope, the candle of the prophets, with longing and joy in our hearts.