And that's ok. It's actually a very positive thing. Because while I'm not feeling like Christmas caroling or making tons of cookies or even turning on the lights of my Christmas tree, I do think this somewhat difficult time has put me into an Advent spirit, which is a different thing completely.
Advent is the season of the church year that many Christians celebrate that mark the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. This is a time when most Advent-observers think about waiting, expectation, and longing. We reflect on the prophecy from Isaiah:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom,establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Isaiah 9:6-7)
It's during this time that we think about preparing for and waiting for the coming of Christ, and what His coming means. What better time to do this when things are darkest?
I think that when things are perfect and happy and full of warmth, we don't always understand the urgency of what Jesus came to do. When we are able to create our own light, it's not easy to understand why we so desperately need the light of Christ. However, when it's dark outside and we might be going through a dark time in our souls, it's natural to long for Jesus. And I think that's what God desires.
I spent time with a friend yesterday who I knew when I lived in Atlanta. For the past several months, her oldest son has been going through major health issues. Doctors can't quite figure out what's wrong. What they do know is that they've spent time in hospitals, she's had to spend the week before Christmas away from her other four kids, and her sweet child is weak and sick. Darkness. In reflecting on what's happening in this family's life, I'm reminded of what true Christmas means. It often means that life is sometimes dark. It means that this earthly life is imperfect and sometimes tragic. It means that there are some days the best we can do is get out of bed and have a good cry. It also means that we long for the light of Christ. It means that there's a knowing (not necessarily a feeling) of joy and peace in our souls in the midst of the darkness. It means that we know that Christ came to drown out the darkness. It means that darkness and evil will not win the war, even if it feels like sometimes that darkness wins a few battles.
It means that even when things feel hopeless, that there's a knowing in our souls that this is not the end of the story. We prepare for and celebrate the birth of Christ because there are battles yet to be fought, and victory yet to be had.
I know that my own personal journey this month has led me to a deeper longing for the presence and hope of Christ in a much more profound way. In days when a passing smile has been difficult to find, I've found myself pressing into the meaning of real, concrete joy and peace. I don't mean peace in a hippy-esque, peace on earth kind of way. I mean peace in a real, abiding, strengthening, transcendent kind of way. And I think it's impossible to understand what the joy and peace of Christ actually are if you haven't dealt with pain, disappointment, or darkness. I've come to believe that it's the darkness we encounter that makes us long for the light.
And while I long for the fullness of Christ to come and dwell, I'm also thankful for glimpses of the light to come. While dealing with my own struggles and seeing the struggles of those around me, I am reminded that God gives us grace even as we wait. I'm reminded of the light of a dear friend who is planning a surprise trip for me in February. I'm reminded of light as the friend I mentioned earlier, who even in difficult moments, finds ways to make her child laugh as he spends time in a hospital bed. I'm reminded of friends who give me the grace to cry. I'm reminded of the power of others believing for us and having hope for us, when hope seems hard to grasp on to. I'm reminded that there is always, always hope. And the darkness and waiting of Advent leads us to a time when the darkness will fade away and give way to victory, peace, and the splendor of day.
Nothing could sum this up better than words from my favorite Christmas/Advent hymn:
- O come, O come, Emmanuel,
- and ransom captive Israel
- that mourns in lonely exile here
- until the Son of God appear.
- Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
- shall come to thee, O Israel!
Rejoice, for He is coming.
Thanks be to God.