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Grief, Waiting and Advent

December 11 2017
December 11 2017


It is Advent, so liturgically speaking it is time to talk about joyful, expectant waiting. The only problem is that I really don’t want to. Because in order to contemplate waiting, I have to slow down, and when I slow down, the griefs and losses of the year might catch up with me.

This, to me, is one of the paradoxes of Advent — that at the time of year when we celebrate the greatest gift God has given us, the very celebration can highlight the vast distance between the promises fulfilled by Christ’s coming and the promises that will candles blog size only be accomplished when he returns — the renewal of the world, and the putting right of all things. Waiting and cultivating hope in the space between those two moments is hard.

The last few years have shown me that not all waiting feels hopeful and expectant. More and more, the struggles in my life and the lives of friends are seemingly permanent, and life-altering. Where is the expectation in serious, longterm illness? Where is there joy in the failing health of parents? The cultural narrative says Christmas is the time to forget troubles and create perfect, magical moments. But I don’t think that is what God is calling me to. I think he invites me to line my griefs right up next to me, like the very real things that they are, and then wait for him anyway, in the hope and belief that He is working even in those things. And that’s harder than pretending they don’t exist.

I don’t have all the answers on how to balance grief and joy at Christmas, but there is a Henri Nouwen essay about Advent that reminds me every year that in the Christian life, we never wait alone. Writing about the Biblical account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth after the angel announced to Mary that she would bear God’s son, Nouwen writes that the reason these two women were able to see what God was doing and rejoice was because they

“…created space for each other to wait. They affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for. The whole meaning of the Christian community lies in offering a space in which we wait for that which we have already seen. Christian community is the place where we keep the flame alive among us and take it seriously, so that it can grow and become stronger in us. In this way, we can live with courage, trusting that there is a spiritual power in us that allows us to live in this world without being seduced constantly by despair, lostness and darkness.“ (from “Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas”)

Every year at Redeemer, I find some of that affirmation in our tradition of lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. The candles of prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, angels, and Christ’s birth remind me that we are on a journey together. We need light along the way,  and God will provide it.. Most of all, I love what we say when a candle is lit: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Thanks be to God!” Whether we’re ready for it or not, Advent is here. I need to hear what it has to say to me. If you do too, we can remind each other that the light shines in the darkness, and no matter how it seems, the darkness has not overcome it. Thanks be to God!


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