After a few weeks of asking, “Is it bedtime yet?” only to realize the clock’s hands barely skimmed six, I resigned that winter’s darkness had hijacked my circadian rhythms and sentenced me to a bone-deep weariness I couldn’t shake. This season of bleary yearning is upon me. I live in anticipation for the light to come again.
Advent is here.
I didn’t grow up celebrating the liturgical calendar. As a child, Advent was twenty-four numbered cardboard doors I’d punch out of a nativity scene to reveal a tiny chocolate treat on the countdown to Christmas morning celebrating Jesus’ birth. In the interim, we’d conjure sentimentality, good cheer, and celebration through all the prescribed Christmas-y things we could manage.
I tried exorcising my melancholy with good deeds and a moral imperative to fill the ever deepening void in my world with tinseled fistfuls of merriment, consumerism, and delusion.
I grasped hold of jaunty carols sung through candy cane-stained lips, cookie platters wrapped in green and red saran wrap dropped off at neighbor’s homes and gifts dropped off for those in need. I circled Black Friday ads with lusty eyes imagining it would fill some hunger in me. I loaded my cart like I could vicariously stockpile joy and swiped my Visa card until the plastic was as warm as my mitten-covered fingers.
I convinced myself I was generous and giving, the hands and feet of Jesus, until January’s statement came and the panicked realization followed that I was neither. I gave and served and smiled in hopes to receive, to numb, to mask, to be accepted. In hopes that not only could the world be made right but I could be made right as well.
I hoisted obligatory positivity onto my shoulders and anesthetized myself into a giddy stupor. The facade might’ve saved me if I just played the part of the down-on-her-luck mom with a heart of gold hoping to make Christmas meaningful and worthwhile for everyone around her.
In 2010, my father died a couple weeks before Advent, and grief assaulted me with a new kind of waiting. It took shape in the form of my memories. My father’s deep laugh, the weight of his palm on my shoulder, the knowledge that a man I loved so deeply was gone before he turned sixty. Much too young, much too soon. He suffered every day leading up to his homegoing. I agonized between wanting him free from pain and at peace and wanting him here for me, for my mom, for my kids to know their Papaji. But healing didn’t come. Death and darkness came and took.
The hollow his life left swallowed any chance I had at ever looking at this season with pristine sugar-coated brightness. The sheen faded from the pearly snow, replaced with the marred tracks of muddy boots and exhaust as we trudged into his memorial service. My five-year-old daughter wore her velvet Christmas dress as if she were attending a celebratory pageant. Instead of dissonance, grieving even as we celebrated made sense. I could no longer see one without the other.
I once imagined myself a Scrooge when I felt anything less than unbridled delight for a Savior who’d abandon heaven to selflessly join the ruckus down here. If only I were more grateful, served more, gave more, celebrated more, Tiny Tim would live, declare “God bless us, everyone!” and all would be made right.
But often this world doesn’t have the happy ending of that Dickensian tale. Today’s Tiny Tim could easily be Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a sixteen-year-old Guatemalan migrant, who died of the flu lying alone on the floor of a South Texas holding cell. Tragically, there was no repentant Scrooge or Ghost of Christmas Future to prophecy truth to power this time.
Jesus came that we would have life everlasting, but to recognize the gift of that is to know darkness. It is to know that the catastrophe that is death surrounds us. The darkness is near. It is deep. It is felt. We can delude ourselves, or we can step into it. I lament the heartbreaking injustice and loss of Carlos’ life.
We are a people of anticipation, or we are a people of despair. As people who believe in Christ, hope is our native tongue, but we are tongue-tied, sputtering when the world is vulgar and cruel and so heartbreakingly unfixed, when the darkness comes too soon and stays too long, when death cackles and clatters against our bones and we fear it might overtake us with grief and longing and the wrongness of it all. When the world isn’t just unfair but unjust and the light seems to fade more than fight, we have Advent.
Instead of denying the darkness in and around us, Advent lets us sit beneath the silent sky filled with inky black midnight waiting for the promised star.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Advent invites us to reconcile our grief, to face the darkness, to confess our deep need and finitude, to confront our sin and error as we pine for glory. Advent allows us to dwell in our fleshiness and hunger whetting our appetites for the feast to come. It pays proper attention to a world in agony, in labor, waiting in anticipation like a virgin mother, storing up mystery and wonder in the midst of the pain. All things are being reconciled to Christ.
Advent cultivates a subversive hope, knowing that unto us a Savior is born.
For more on facing the darkness and maintaining a language of hope, Alia Joy’s book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, acknowledges our discomfort, desperation, and dependence is where God meets us the most.
Advent cultivates a subversive hope, knowing that unto us a Savior is born. -@aliajoyh: Click To Tweet