By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)
Advent recalls the story of a weary world longing for hope and for freedom, and how God came to us right here in this world, in flesh, in the form of a little child. Advent calls us to reflect on the truth that when our lives are most impoverished, when it seems that all possibilities lie fallow and hope is dim, God draws close to us.
2020 has been a year that has certainly tested our courage and our hope. So many of the folks with whom I talk each week carry a weariness of soul and a weightiness of grief that stems from so much change and so much loss. This year we are limping into Advent with a new level of thirst and hunger on so many levels and in so many ways.
In truth, it has been sobering to watch the mile-long lines of cars as families await meals from food banks. It’s hard to see the tears of medical personnel who comfort those who are dying alone, isolated from their loved ones. It’s difficult to hear of the thousands who are losing their homes. It’s been challenging to socially distance well, when our hearts are dying for connection. It’s heartbreaking to watch so many funerals online. We grasp at any crumb of normalcy we can get—our turkey dinners, the deals on Black Friday, the strange sports schedules, a favorite singer offering a concert on Facebook. We want things to get better, to get back to “normal” and for life to go on as it should have been. Conversely, we may lower our eyes in denial, especially if our lives have not been as deeply disrupted as other’s have been. Even so, our longing hearts groan during the wait for this to get better.
But can this painful longing be a gift? Could it be that what we truly long for is finally rising to the surface? Do we dare stay awake to it?
Throughout scripture we see that suffering reveals what is most deeply true in the human heart. I believe that what is being awakened in this time is a hunger and thirst for righteousness— that is, for a weary, fragmented world to be set right.
And it is the same longing that is in God’s own heart for us, and that is reflected in the inaugural words of Jesus:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We long for the new world in which those who have been forgotten over and over again are given the finest seat at the banquet table, where those crushed by the traumas of life and sin can be free, and where wealth and power do not presume to deserve the most honor nor to have the last word, rather, a world where they, too, can finally see a new way of being. We long for Jubilee. Ultimately, it is a longing for God. If there were no God, this sad world would be acceptable to us just as it is. But by the grace of God, in our hearts we know it is not.
And so, the Spirit continues to speak Good News over the earth. We have seen the pattern all throughout the scripture—God continues to bring forth new life into places of loss and brokenness, and we can trust that something new is coming forth now. Therefore, now is the time to enter our Advent work more earnestly than ever as we take a fearless inventory of the darkness. Now we let our deep longing break through our grief and numbness to open us to the new world that God is creating among us. Now we awaken to our addiction to comfort and a status quo, to our selfishness and blindness. Now, let us allow the hunger and thirst for righteousness to open us to renewal and transformation, that we may truly be the people who exude Good News, people who are the light of the world and bearers of Living Water, as Jesus foretold. Now, let us draw courage to enter into this new world unfettered by our creature comforts, rejoicing in the tender mercy of our God, for now, we act in accordance with God’s future, the one for which we truly long.
For indeed the night, the darkness, is holy. It readies us for the coming of the Dawn from on high.
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn;
Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices!
O night divine! O night when Christ was born.
O night, O holy night, O night divine.
Amen, God is with us.