Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Exactly Where We Are

What drew me to Advent as a child is not the same thing that draws me in as an adult. When I was little, it was the stories, the songs, the cookies, the decorated tree and the bright twinkle lights against the darkened room. These things all sit comfortably in my memory, but what makes me yearn for the Advent season each year is something seemingly opposite to Christmas cheer – the ability to dialogue with suffering, lament, and longing, and at the same time know with crystal-clear certainty that God sent His son to the bright Light against all the world’s pain.

In his article for Relevant Magazine entitled “Why We Should All be Observing Advent,” Andre Henry writes,

. . . the joy of Jesus’ birth emerges from the suffering and sadness of preceding centuries of longing.

Indeed, the entire Christian story is based on that kind of rhythm: from despair to hope, darkness to light, chaos to order, captivity to freedom, mourning to dancing. The entire Christian story begins with a progression from the chaotic waters of the formless Earth to God’s rejoicing on the first Sabbath day: when God does the cabbage patch at the sight of the newly formed earth and declares, “It is very good.”

Advent is the season where we pay attention to our sickness, sadness and suffering, remembering that God is also paying attention to the same. It is the time for acknowledging our deep longing for the world to be made right and the joy of Christmas emerges from that season of groaning—from the fact that God has met us exactly where we are, as we are.

Maybe you’ve never given yourself permission to weep over the broken things of this world, your life, or on the table in front of you. In Advent, we make a space to name our groanings and then by faith, proclaim with the prophet Isaiah:

There is One coming, and indeed, has already come, who says with great might:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.

Isaiah 61:1-3

The hardest part of all this, is that the world’s pain has not yet been wiped way. The final day for that has not yet come. But if we let God lead us, the turbulent waters be as a gift. Out of darkness will come Light, and out of despair, great Hope. It’s like the passage from the twelfth chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They are passing along Dark Island, when the whole world seems to be plunged into utter darkness:

Lucy leant her head on the edge of the fighting top and whispered, “Aslan, Aslan, if ever you loved us at all, send us help now.” The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little—better. “After all, nothing has really happened to us yet,” she thought.

“Look!” cried Rynelf's voice hoarsely from the bows. There was a tiny speck of light ahead, and while they watched a broad beam of light fell from it upon the ship. It did not alter the surrounding darkness, but the whole ship was lit up as if by searchlight. Caspian blinked, stared round, saw the faces of his companions all with wild, fixed expressions. Everyone was staring in the same direction: behind everyone lay his black, sharply-edged shadow.

Lucy looked along the beam and presently saw something in it. At first it looked like a cross, then it looked like an aeroplane, then it looked like a kite, and at last with a whirring of wings it was right overhead and was an albatross. It circled three times round the mast and then perched for an instant on the crest of the gilded dragon at the prow. It called out in a strong sweet voice what seemed to be words though no one understood them. After that it spread its wings, rose, and began to fly slowly ahead, bearing a little to starboard. Drinian steered after it not doubting that it offered good guidance. But no one except Lucy knew that as it circled the mast it had whispered to her, “Courage, dear heart,” and the voice, she felt sure, was Aslan's, and with the voice a delicious smell breathed in her face.

In Advent, embrace the hard things, and let God whisper, “Courage, dear heart.”

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