Michelle went to climb Mount Rainier and never returned home. The last real conversation we had was probably two months before at her thirtieth birthday party. It was a great party. We had a big dinner in her backyard in Georgia, lit with candles and still warm, even in October. After dinner someone lit a campfire, and while we sat around it, I had the chance to ask Michelle about what she wanted out of her thirtieth year, or life in general. She longed to fall in love, to get married and have a family. She also wanted to use her talents for the Kingdom of God. She wanted to work hard doing something that really made a difference in the world.
She might have told me about her plans to climb Rainier, but honestly, I don’t remember. Michelle intimidated the hell out of me, and she was often saying things that I would force down into my sub-conscience as to not feel too threatened. She could accomplish five things to my one, all while being taller and thinner, and with a brilliant smile on her face, and that would all be very irritating except that she was so genuine and kind-spirited. You wanted Michelle on your team, for sure.
Which is part of the reason why, when I got a call from my best friend Alli, saying that Michelle had not turned up at the ranger station on Rainier after a freak snowstorm, I still thought everything would be ok.
Every day that passed, even in my memory now, seems like a week. The snowstorm didn’t let up enough for rescuers to go up on the mountain for a few days. A helicopter was an impossibility for longer than that.
I prayed all the time. I prayed walking around my neighborhood, because I was praying so fervently I couldn’t sit still. I started drawing a picture of Mount Rainier and I wrote in the crevasses on the side of the mountain the verses of a Psalm, envisioning God’s protection over her as my cramping hand moved over the paper. I planned on giving it to her when she returned home safely, but I still have it.
Almost a week past, and I gathered friends at my apartment and made a big pot of chili, because what else can you do but be together and eat. We ate and laughed, and talked and prayed, and prayed and hoped, and hoped and held our breath…
Time passed and nothing happened. Too much time had passed. Rescue teams were not able to find the four missing people. We gave up hope, but there was no one to say goodbye to. She wasn’t there; nothing was certain. People had irrational fantasies that Michelle had run off with her guide to California, where they were living in secret sin. This feels almost irreverent and utterly ridiculous to say, but that was a better story to cling to than the alternative. For months it felt as though Michelle had simply moved away and got that job in California she had been talking about, and just forgot to tell us.
They did find her in September, nearly nine months after her trip. The snow had thawed. No more fantasies; no more of that silly kind of hope.
This story, now a memory, has a home, has it’s own little crevasse in my mind, for better or worse, and it acts as a filter, for hope.
I know for sure it came to mind when my husband and I were canoeing down the Ogeechee River in rural Georgia.
We got a late start, which is not surprising for us. We wanted to put in after the heat of the day had passed, but starting at five thirty p.m. was pushing it. It was supposed to take three hours to travel between our two parked cars, and we had a little less than four hours of daylight left. We had driven two and a half hours just to get there, so there was some incentive to do it anyway. Nathan seemed confident, but then he told me later that he just acts that way so I’ll go along with him.
So we began, on tea-stained glassy water, with the cypress trees and all their knees stretching out in two directions, reaching upward and reflected down below. (For those of you who come from parts of the world where trees don’t have knees, the cypress knees are part of the roots that grow back up out of the water or ground and form pointy-ish, knobby stumps, and can get quite large.)
I got my camera out, and began taking pictures, and we were rejoicing in the beauty and quietude of this place… for about ten minutes.
And we came upon a fallen tree.
Cypress are known to fall over in stormy seasons when the water gets too high. This one was a big one and it stretched all the way across, so we decided to portage. The canoe weighs eighty-five pounds plus all our gear, and it’s pretty awkward for me to hold on to so portaging is a last resort. I got out on the bank and pulled the canoe toward me, and promptly slipped in the mud and fell on my ass right on a cypress knee. It hurt. A lot.
We maneuvered along the bank and got back in the river, feeling pretty good about ourselves (despite my aching backside). But we didn’t get too much further when we ran into another tree, and another, and then another. Don’t ask me why we didn’t turn around. I think we had delusions of it clearing up just ahead, and we’re the “if you’re game, I’m game” type of folks, and that gets us into lots of trouble. Also, every tree we got around was one we’d have to go around again if we went back. So we kept going.
But here’s another thing. There was a spider on every flipping branch. It was apparent that they had claimed this land long ago, and no one had contested it, and they were waving their little spider flags high. In my face, in fact.
I need to put this into context, lest you think I am a screaming, shrieking type of woman. I am not. There was a time as a kid I kept a spider in a little box in my bedroom. Weird, yes, but not a shrieker. I am also not the type that completely falls apart in a high-stress situation…normally.
We kept going, and it didn’t get any easier, surprisingly. Sometimes we could go under fallen trees, and sometimes we got out on the tree and pulled the canoe over, but whatever we did it always meant spiders in my face.
It became apparent, at some point on this journey, that we weren’t making good time. And we were losing light. And it was at this point that I began to feel myself become slightly unhinged.
Onward we went, into the dark, armed with a small flashlight and a headlamp. Nathan took over paddling in the back while I held the lights up in front, and tried to guide him as best as I could even though the light only reached so far and my glasses kept fogging up from the humidity. It was now primetime for spiders and they were out in full force, no longer clinging to the hanging branches, but stretching their webs right across the water, so that I was in danger of going face first into one at all times. It was about this time that I completely fell apart. I believe hysteria is the proper word for it. There was crying and a lot of screaming, and a very strong, though irrational, desire to escape or give up. Whether from physical or emotional exhaustion, I don’t know, but my legs could no longer be depended on to hold me up, and I was useless.
It might have been at this point that I thought of my friend Michelle. My thought was this: God does not always rescue you, not the way you want him to, not when you want him to. You may not make it out of this. Cue: all the worst fears about water snakes and broken legs and spiders.
It also might have been around that time that we heard one of the most enchanting sounds you can hear in the woods at night: two barred owls calling to each other, “Who cooks for you….who cooks for you all?” And a bright full moon broke through the clouds, and the tiniest bit of hope lit in my heart.
It would have been nice if a clear path was cut directly to our take out point from there, but that wasn’t the case. We still had a good ways to go. But if it had then my sexy champion of a husband wouldn’t have been able to be my hero and single handedly get us through a bunch of that mess, pulling the canoe over fallen trees with me in it, while balancing on fallen logs. And I wouldn’t have been able to be the strong one after Nathan completely lost it when he broke his paddle trying to get us unstuck. (And by “the strong one”, I mean I handed him the last tangerine and some water and relished in the respite from immediate spider danger for a few minutes.)
It was about this time that we thought we might be sleeping in the canoe.
BUT, I begged Nathan to look up were we were on the map (because, oddly enough, we had cell phone reception the whole time) and we were two bends in the river away from the car. A short portage and couple maneuvers later, and we made it, and there was much rejoicing.
This is a funny story, but it illustrates a very real, often frightening truth. We have no guarantees or promises about the length of our lives or our success or happiness. Bad things happen to good people every day, even people who love God.
My mom died last May, struck down by a brain tumor. She loved God more than anyone I know. She taught me to love God and to believe in his faithfulness. She believed that she would live a long and blessed life here on earth. I have no answers as to why she didn’t.
I saw Mount Rainier for the first time with my own eyes last August. It was arresting in its beauty and grandeur. I teared up, silently, sitting next to my husband in the second row back of a hotel shuttle bus, as I came face-to-face, all at once, with my faith and my doubt.
I wrote this on the last Good Friday, one liturgical year ago, while we were caring for my mom and watching her body fail her. I have been mostly silent about this, at least publicly, because I haven’t been ready to talk about it. I feel now that the best way to honor her is to tell these stories.
I prayed to the Lord the other night. I told him that, yes, I know he came to earth to be with us, to be human and to suffer and to die. I know that he came to die so that we might not have to, and he bore all the sins of the world.
But were there tumors wreaking havoc in his mother’s brain, her body?
No. To the best of my knowledge, his mother never was seriously ill while he was on earth, and probably never was. Which makes me wonder what we all did to deserve this. My mom is the most faithful, most trusting….
I had a friend who died while hiking on Mt. Rainier. A storm came in too quickly and they couldn’t get off the mountain. She froze to death. I wonder if, up until her last breath, she was thinking, “The Lord will save me. The Lord will rescue me.” We were all praying for that.
He did not. Not in this life.
I used to have such a blind, naive faith about such things. I used to imagine that the Lord would save me from any difficult situation, so long as I was in it long enough to feel the need to ask for help and remember my dependance on him.
I no longer believe that way. In fact my belief, my trust, seems to go no further than the next step I take. Step forward, he is there; step again, he is still there. At times I believe simply because it is the only thing keeping me going. The alternative is too frightening. I feel that my belief, my faith, is the glue that holds all of my pieces together, and to lose that belief would mean that I fall apart.
But that is only sometimes. We don’t know what it means to truly believe unless we have a knowledge of what unbelief is, of what doubt is. Faith is believing without seeing, but I believe in his goodness because I have seen it.
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”
It is Good Friday. On this day, lifetimes ago, the Lord, my Lord, hung on a cross and he thought of me, and he thought of my mother, and he knew what it was to have a mother with tumors wreaking havoc in her brain, on her body.
Jess came like pure grace, sent straight from Australia for me. We immediately bonded over the fact that we are two of a very, very small group of women at Regent who have husbands who were willing to move very far away and start new lives so their wives could go to school. We have good husbands. But we also bonded over our love of beauty and beautiful things, the goodness in creation and created things, and our favorite class, New Testament. This post came just in time for me: It’s my first Christmas without my mom, and it hurts. Jess reminded me that God is here with me. I mean, sometimes you just need to hear it with the scripture references attached. Maybe you need to hear it too.
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'” Luke 2:10
Over and against the dark and anxiety, problems too big to carry and crumbling hopes, perhaps the angel’s message is the call of Christmas. The first Christmas was not a moment for the faint of heart: There were visions, angels, social scandal, and political upheaval. The wounds of dashed familial dreams were rubbed with salt — Elizabeth long barren and Mary an unwed mother. The national and geographical skies of Israel were heavy with unrest; God’s special people felt forgotten and abused. The stakes were high and there was much to be afraid of. It should perhaps be unsurprising then that early in the story, Zechariah (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30), and Joseph (Matt. 1:20) are each called to put away fear.
A quick word search shows that they stand in a long line of those called by God not to fear. Abraham to Revelation, the story of God’s people is the story of hearing those words: Do not be afraid. And the reason, the follow-up statement, the ‘why’? It begins with God Himself, His character and inclination toward them. They don’t need to be afraid because they have a God who promises to fight for His people (Deut. 3:22) and deliver them (Ex. 14:13). A God who promises never to leave His people (Deut. 31:6) and who promises to do good to them (Zech. 8:15). He will be their shield and reward (Gen. 15:1). He will hear the cries of even the small and weak (Gen. 21:17). They do not need to fear great battles, great nations, doubt, or discouragement because there is no other God besides their God (Isa. 44:8) and He has determined to help them (Isa. 41:14).
And the most incredible ‘help’ came one Holy Night in an unexpected way: a tiny baby, “a thrill of hope” in a desperate situation. The wonder of birth and new life bringing so much potential into the world. The angels herald the good news and again call the shepherds from darkness and fear into something new that God is doing, great joy for all. At last, God among us. At last, face-to-face yet we live. At last, reconciled. At last, peace and rest.
This Christmas I am trying to let joy unseat fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear,” and Jesus came to demonstrate God’s perfect love for us, bringing peace for troubled hearts (John 14:27). Jesus Himself acknowledges that “in this world [we] will have trouble” but calls us to “take heart! [because] I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The One who is First and Last (Rev. 1:17) calls us to lay down our fear and rather to look to Him, the conduit of cosmic Love, Joy, and Peace. Yes, Advent calls us to wait, but to wait with confidence knowing that “the hopes and fears of all the years” have indeed been met in the One who came and overcame, and knowing that “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
I had many good intentions regarding this blog series that I never got around to. One of them was to focus on the O Antiphons in the days leading up to Christmas. I didn’t do that, but little did I know my mother-in-law, Lane, wrote this wonderful post on them! It was like a gift to me, and I know it will be to you, as well.
During Advent, I’m captivated by the hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Both great sorrow and great hope reside in these stanzas.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orderest all things mightily; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.
O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe.
O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on thy mercy call.
O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
This hymn draws its origin from 8th century O Antiphons. Each Antiphon, a title for Jesus, acts as an invitation, here in Advent, to focus afresh on who He is. Each O brings us back again and again to Jesus.
Today, in certain liturgical worship traditions, these seven O Antiphons are sung, often in Latin, from December 17 through December 23.
In Latin, these seven titles create an acrostic. Join each word’s beginning letter and read from last to first; this creates “Ero Cras,” which translates “Tomorrow I come.” Ero Cras: a reminder in Advent of what is on the close horizon as we look towards Christmas: The Coming of Christ.
The English translations of the Latin O Antiphon phrases are:
O Sapientia = O Wisdom (Isaiah 11:2)
O Adonai = O Lord of Israel (Micah 6:4)
O Radix Jesse = O Root/Rod of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1)
O Clavis David = O Key of David (Isaiah 22:22)
O Oriens = O Dayspring (Luke 1:78)
O Rex Gentium = O King of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:6)
O Emmanuel = O God with us (Isaiah 7:4)
Over time, “Keep your O” became a short catch-phrase, reminding folks to brood over these various titles, leaning into the character of Christ who came, and comes, and will come again.
“Keeping your O” amid hardships serves as both compass and anchor in any storm.
In the worst of times, when I am split apart by sorrow’s demands, by grief’s plunder, by unanswered questions and prayers, by aches of body or mind, soul or heart, I need both compass and anchor. I need to know where to go. I also need to know how to stay steady.
At such times, wisdom, though, feels elusive. I imagine no one is in charge. I am uprooted. Door after door slams shut in my face. Darkness descends. I don’t belong anywhere. I am far too alone.
But the O Antiphons say otherwise.
There is One who came, Who comes, Who is coming again and He is:
Wisdom. Lord. Root. Key. Dayspring. King. God with us.
There is One who is wise, sovereign, rooted, able to set free any captive places in me. One who brightens the darkness and shatters it, gloriously reigning, very Present.
Pressing into the Presence of Christ through the O Antiphons of Advent is one way I can listen for the invitations of God in my life. A good reminder is to ask myself, “How am I doing on keeping my O?”
How might you answer that question?
Nathan is my husband, my partner in life and adventure. I took him as he is, and he took me as I am, and we said “I do” in a meadow under oak trees swaying. What can you say about such a person in so few words? In our short marriage so far we’ve known a few deep sorrows, and we’ve also known great joy and a crazy amount of love. Here, on this earth, that’s the way it is, isn’t it? Laughter through tears…but one day, he’ll wipe every tear from our eyes.
The timing of the Christian seasons has always seemed odd to me. Our priests, clad in black, strip the altars bare just as the greenness of spring and the blooming of crocuses fill the woods once more. We walk the stations of the cross and keep vigil through the night as others lay out in the sun, soaking up the warmth they’ve not felt in so long. In the wintertime, the very first day after celebrating Christ’s birth we remember his first martyr, Stephen, stoned to death by a vicious mob. Two days later we remember a mass slaughter of infant boys: every Holy Innocent two years old or younger in the vicinity of Bethlehem, on the orders of a pitiless king. And then there’s Advent.
While others, inundated with happy Christmas music, try to hold a smile for two months straight, like all the happy people in the happy Christmas cards, we are told to reflect on the last judgment at the end of the world.* And while the pile of presents under the tree spills over with gold and maybe a little frankincense, we are told not to forget the myrrh, for this tiny baby in a manger will need a proper burial one day; washed of gore, his mangled body will need to be scented according to custom.
Is it that God, Christianity, the liturgical calendar are out to spoil our enjoyment of the seasons? Why must we remain solemn while others celebrate around us? Why should we consider death and endings when life and beginnings are right before us? It seems to me that this juxtaposition serves to remind us of the reality of this fallen world. Our joy here is never perfect, never complete; it is always, in some way, associated with sorrow: a tragedy, a disappointment, someone or something trying to steal away our joy, or just a feeling that things are not as perfect as we had hoped they would be. Advent and Lent, then, are not sad exceptions to the happy rule; rather, they are inherently aligned with our lived reality. Observing these solemn seasons properly is much like the breaking of a glass at a Jewish wedding. Even when we are at our happiest, we must not forget that brokenness is all around us.
But it will not always be that way. One day, gathered together in the presence of God, our joy will be complete, and no one, nothing will be able to steal it away. Just as we should not try to emulate Buddy the Elf, for whom Christmas is a time of candy and toys and candy and never-ending happiness and candy, so too should we not try to emulate Ebenezer Scrooge, for whom Christmas is a despised interruption to the cold, exacting life of miserly self-interest. Everything is not happy at Christmas, nor Advent, but neither is everything sad. A light, after all, shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. And just as Easter always follows after Lent, Christmas always follows after Advent. And that is truly a reason to celebrate.
* See lectionary and Book of Common Prayer collects for Advent. This focus, of course, makes sense, as the observance of Christ’s first coming is an ideal time to consider his second coming.
If you know Jenny, you know her smile, her genuine kindness, her love of laughter. Of course, I don’t know her all that well, but these things here are the first things you notice. I asked Jenny to be honest and vulnerable with us about places of “waiting” in her life, and she so generously gifted us with a piece of herself.
Just about the only time we see waiting as a good thing is during the season of Advent. Advent is generally known as waiting with great expectation. When I think of that, I see such excitement on the faces of those that know there are glorious days ahead. However, I have allowed waiting to be such a horrendous time in my life because I get caught up in the dreams of what could or will be instead of finding joy in the here and now.
Off and on for many years I have struggled with “the gift of singleness.” It’s downright obnoxious some days, just as marriage is for some people. I get it, so don’t you dare try to tell me both have their perks and struggles. I get it, really, and I may or may not cut you (with love) for trying to point that out. There have been times when I thought that singleness was a punishment for past sins of underage and overindulged drinking, premarital sex, and settling for so much less than what God calls us to.
Once I realized that was a lie from the pit of hell, I embraced the freedom I have now and am making the most of it. Just under two years ago, I had the privilege of serving in Moscow & Sochi, Russia on a mission trip and saw a lot of things God had been bringing together for years. It was after that that I applied and started moving forward with missions placement in Italy. To make a long story short, everything looked like I would be gearing up to leave by now, if not already be placed there and serving. Much to my dismay, as well as that of my missions coach, the organization told me no. Talk about rejection and heart break. What was wrong with me? Am I even hearing God in this? Since then, I’ve still heard, “wait.” While I kick and scream sometimes, I know it’s for His glory and my good. I’ve seen glimpses of why He kept me here to serve and I am grateful for these opportunities and even a recent introduction! (This is a whole new type of waiting but good, nonetheless.) For these things, for this waiting, I am thankful.
Only recently have I realized that during times of waiting that we are being transformed and refined into the likeness of our God. Not just any god but the God who created us and loves us with an everlasting love. That love is deeply overwhelming to the point of tears and is unconditional, unwavering, and unending. We are flawed people so being refined takes some serious time and dedication. I’m so grateful that He hasn’t given up on us after all the tantrums and failures. During the times of being refined, it can be painfully messy because we’re often fighting the entire process and possibly pouting the whole way through. But if you step back and think about it as a time where our failures, laments, and scrapes are being made whole, you can see a glimpse of how God is renewing you.
Waiting often hurts and gets downright messy. We each have to choose to believe that He isn’t preventing or prohibiting us but rather, protecting and preparing us for the days ahead. That’s something worth celebrating and embracing. Here’s to awaiting the goodness of our Savior as we celebrate His birth in this season but also as we await the time He comes back for us. No matter where you are, in whatever season, know that God is not only for you but WITH you. Here’s to waiting and embracing the beautiful mess.
Tamara and I have had very little time in the actual presence of each other. I met her at Laity Lodge, in one of my pilgrimages to take part in the “Pastors to Artists” retreats. Even so, she is a woman I hold close. I value her wisdom and insight, but more importantly, I value her love, which she gives so wonderfully freely! Enjoy.
The Absurdity of Advent Hope, a reflection after prayer
“It is currently said that hope goes with youth, and lends to youth its wings of a butterfly; but I fancy that hope is the last gift given to man, and the only gift not given to youth. Youth is pre-eminently the period in which a man can be lyric, fanatical, poetic; but youth is the period in which a man can be hopeless. The end of every episode is the end of the world. But the power of hoping through everything, the knowledge that the soul survives its adventures, that great inspiration comes to the middle-aged; God has kept that good wine until not. It is from the backs of the elderly gentlemen that the wings of the butterfly should burst.”
-(G.K. Chesterton, excerpted from Charles Dickens: Last of the Great Men)
We light the candle every night, pray together, squint in the darkness to read the Scripture and the prayers. We make the sign of the cross by candlelight, hoping all we’ve said and heard will be mysteriously Spirit-sealed within us.
We also yawn, wish we could hurry up and get back to television/homework/bed. We bend our heads in confession, blurt out some apologies and withhold others. In the middle of it all, we giggle at the proximity of our holy intentions to the silly objects of our everyday lives. Our daily assortment of objects crowd in: a plastic zebra in the manger scene, a corn-filled heating pad, random knickknacks pile up around the ceramic holy family.
Speaking of the absurd, we talk about hope. We make lists of things we really, really, really hope will happen soon. We pray our hopes, and listen for the Father’s ideas about our hopes. We ask him to match our hopes up with His.
Because, really, isn’t everything about the hope of Advent a teensy bit absurd? A baby King, a virgin mother, a stable throne-room? The Incarnation makes shepherds into royal guests and barn animals into silent midwives. So why not make our ordinary, daily, bric-a-brac hopes and dreams a reason to give thanks to the God of all comfort, the Giver of every good gift, the Consuming Fire within the common bush?
This Advent we give thanks for the ordinary, everyday gifts that we often overlook. We say one word prayers and listen for the comfort of a silent God-With-Us, sitting right here among us in our own suburban version of a hillside cave. We turn hope into a spoken word and do our best not to forget what we need, because our Emmanuel will never forget.
This is our hope. And this is our salvation.
Liza is the kind of friend you can tell the hardest things to. She excels at listening and making you feel like it’s all very normal, in the best way. I’ve needed that, trust me. Hear her challenge to slow down and wait with purpose during the season of Advent; to not give into despair, but wait with hope.
The inner workings of man are indeed messy things: broken, stunted, not quite there…yet. I believe at times we are graced with visions of hope that instill a longing completion, the birth of a burden that gives way to the release of peace. Is this the perpetual cycle of hope, which, in the worldly sense, walks a close line to that of despair?
The mentality of God’s timing and desires linked with ours is one often misunderstood, and with good cause. It is certainly not an unusual theme: How can a good God let such bad things happen? Where are You, God, in my heartache and pain? Why are You so distant? As our dear C.S. Lewis states in A Grief Observed:
“…My idea of God is a not divine idea. It has to be shattered from time to time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence?”
Holidays are trying times for many people; this is probably no surprise to you. Often a barrage of emotional and relational turmoil comes with being around family and loved ones or the keen absence of those individuals who, for whatever reason, are not in our presence. There is frequently a stirring for greater sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging usually brought about in the season of reflection and celebration: Thanksgiving has just nipped our heels and the New Year is dawning, causing a great rejoicing, a gaping existential crisis, or something vaguely in between.
The season of Advent is the great precipice of the Christian liturgical year. Our great acclamation: “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again!” is just beginning anew. The season of waiting has begun and hope has not yet been born in the flesh. We are anxious, ready to meet the coming of Christ, the light of the world! But the night is still long and dark. So we wait.
Dear friends, I challenge you to take some time in the midst of this season to slow down. To wait with purpose. The light of Christ in you is the tangible Christ to the Body and the world. The challenge of Advent is to not fall into the tension of waiting, but to nurture that tension and allow it to become a hopeful longing.
Advent Prayer of Henri Nouwen:
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.
We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.
We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.
We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.
We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.
We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.
To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”
Lane is my mother-in-love, as she would say, and I am blessed by the benefits of her persistent, loving mothering of my brilliant and tender-hearted husband. I am grateful for her willingness to go through the dark places with her loved ones, and her openness in sharing a reflection of the journey through pain with us.
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light… Isaiah 9:1
Light interrupts the darkness.
Raw places sting. They jab at us with a thousand stabs. Be it physical, emotional, intellectual, relational, or spiritual, when we suffer, the darkness swirls too close.
Our hearts ache. Our bodies throb. Our energy vanishes. Our emotions twinge. Our spirits sag. Our minds fog over. We are undone.
Light interrupts the darkness.
Life is rocking smoothly along. All’s settled. We are comfortably at home with our faith, with our God.
Then suddenly, disaster, of one sort or another, strikes. Nothing’s settled. We are uncomfortable, not at home in our emotions, our body, our mind, our hearts. Our faith and our God, once strong and secure, seem faint.
Numbness sets in. Cobwebs. Fog. Searing pain. Confusion. Longings unfulfilled. For hours. For days. For weeks. For months. For years. We are stuck in the muck, feeling run over, again and again and again.
Though others may walk with us in this darkness, we feel isolated, invisible. Apart. Alone. Traumatized. Tattered. Scattered.
There is no getting over it, no getting back to normal, no quick fix, no easy road home.
Time itself feels suspended.
Light interrupts the darkness.
Eventually, much further down the long, long road of grief and suffering at the junction of recovery and healing, we emerge from the thick pea soup of pain and sorrow.
We aren’t who we were way back when this avalanche of adversity descended.
We look in the mirror and don’t fully recognize what suffering has created or how healing has transformed us.
We walk and wait and watch and laugh and dance and cry differently than before.
Walter Brueggemann, Old Testament scholar, writes of these stages in Praying the Psalms. Professor Brueggemann notes that we experience being “securely oriented,” then “painfully disoriented,” then “surprisingly reoriented.”
Light interrupts the darkness.
I don’t know what your sorrow and pain are. I do know they complicate all of life, just as my own have.
Over six decades of life, I’ve known more sorrow than I care to claim, though it’s certainly claimed me.
I’ve miscarried a much-loved child. A most-loved marriage shattered in divorce. A promised promotion went, instead, to a colleague. Surgery, a promised relief, relieved nothing. A friendship, long-treasured, disappears. Surely you know of what I speak.
Loss gallivanted, cavalier and haughty, through my own days as well as through the lives of folks (friends and family near and dear), well known and well loved.
Troubles descend, leaving behind the trash of trauma. Inner healing’s balm is slow to mend the broken heart, soul, spirit, mind, body.
In the middle of the worst pain of my life, I’ve run home sobbing, into the arms of my Good, Good Heavenly Father. My Lover Jesus romanced my broken heart. Glorious Holy Spirit hovered over the chaos and, out of the vast swirl of brokenness, restored (and keeps on restoring) with creativity, with beauty, with “surprising reorientation.”
Light interrupts the darkness.
What have you lost?
A child? A parent? A friend?
A marriage? A job? A promotion?
A dream? A path forward? A path through?
A past? A future? A now?
Innocence? Hope? Health?
Trust? Finances? Faith?
Trauma tramples, leaving us trembling.
Light interrupts the darkness.
We are rattled. But God is not.
We are shaken. But God is not.
We are stuck. But God is not.
We lose hope. But God has not.
Light interrupts the darkness.
In this season of Advent, sorrow is an unwanted companion, especially amid a culture that sentimentalizes Christmas and dismisses Christ.
Winds and waves whip the boat.
Jesus invites Peter, “Come.”
Eyes on Jesus, Peter walks on stormy seas.
Eyes on waves, Peter sinks.
Light interrupts the darkness.
Storms rise, unbidden, undeserved.
Some come with no explanation given, sending us spiraling downward.
Others forewarn but we miss the signs.
Some storms swirl at the behest of another’s poor choice, or, on occasion, as a consequence of one’s own lack of wisdom.
Light interrupts the darkness.
Whatever your pain and sorrow this Advent season, Jesus weeps with you.
Your Good, Good Father has your name engraved on His heart.
He sees you.
He knows you.
He hears you.
He longs to wipe away your tears.
The Spirit lingers near to comfort you.
The Psalms invite you to lament your suffering.
Keep waiting. Keep watching. Keep walking.
Keep going onward towards the stable. Look in the manger.
Light interrupts the darkness.
Adrienne Redekopp is a new friend at Regent, but she’s a new friend that feels kinda comfortable, like an old friend, and that’s probably because she’s so genuine and willing to jump right in the deep end with you. You’ll read that, too, here in her words.
God sent a gift at Christmas.
It was called Jesus.
And it was unwrapped and exclaimed over and delighted in.
And then nothing happened for thirty years.
What a long wait for those who had been hoping
For those who had received this gift
For those who believed what had been promised.
A gift that is not fulfilled for
Have you ever been given a gift
That you could not use?
That someone told you was the key to your future
But that would not come into effect
For years and years
Of watching and waiting and wondering
And maybe doubting?
Maybe you moved to a new city,
Maybe you went back to school,
Maybe you got married and had kids and lived life
And still you’re waiting
Because God made promises
And you haven’t yet seen them fulfilled.
Are you faithful?
Are you trying?
Are you wondering if it was all a dream,
If you imagined the promise,
The beautiful gift,
The immensity of what could be?
Are you tired of waiting?
Is watching making you weary?
Are you bowing your head in sorrow,
Jesus is already-not-yet in our world.
And the promise is long in coming.
And I’m sorry it’s heavy on you still.
You lift up your head – for our God sees you.
You cry out your prayers – for our God hears you.
You sob out your tears – for our God catches them
And holds them close to His heart.
You ask your questions – for our God will answer.
Advent is our every day.
It is the time of year when we acknowledge imperfection
And a belief that beauty is coming.
It is a moment in time
That captures our desire for Light –
That hope that shines in through the cracks in our hearts,
Broken, but not gone.
Jesus is coming.
He is making our world ready.
Just as the little child went to shul,
And obeyed his parents,
And learned God’s word,
And became a man,
He is making us ready.
The gift has been opened,
But it is not yet completely fulfilled.
But it will be.
It will be.
Remember today that the Light shines in the darkness
And the darkness will not overcome it.
Remember that God sees you,
And Jesus loves you,
And the Holy Spirit lives inside you.
Remember that Jesus came to earth
To taste our sadness
And He knows how hard you hurt.
Remember that He left his Spirit
And His church
And His Love.
Remember that He will come again.
And remember the Gift
That will someday