|image by Baz Ratner|
This week I called an old friend – the kind of friend you talk to twice a year, but with whom you share your secrets. I told her nothing was as it should be, and lately I’m just talking to the ceiling. Advent, she told me. It’s the season of waiting, and you’re living in it.
It’s easy to celebrate waiting in a symbolic way. To remember the young pregnant woman, to reflect on the prophecies of Isaiah, to sit in silence and awe. It’s easy to light candles and reflect on their anticipation. Advent in the abstract draws up beauty, wonder, inspiration. It’s easy.
Advent in real life isn’t quite so serene.
The problem with real life Advent is you know it won’t end in four days. Let’s be honest, you really don’t know if it will end at all – or that it isn’t leading into total destruction. You have no guarantees. All you have is this hope – not a shiny candlelit abstract hope, but a gritty, ludicrous, almost embarrassingly optimistic notion that this thing you need so desperately – this thing that’s been floating within your sight but just beyond your grasp all this time, even though everyone around you seems to grab it effortlessly – that one day you won’t have to chase it anymore. One day, it will be yours too.
In real life Advent, I don’t find much comfort in Isaiah or Luke. Instead, I find solace in the silence. I hold on to the blank page between the Old and New Testament, the four hundred years between the last prophet’s death and John the Baptist’s birth. I think about the faithful who lived during that time. I picture them reciting the stories, the legend that God would send help someday. How they must have remembered the old prophets and kings and wondered if God had given up on the whole thing. For hundreds of years they lived in the dark. Generation after generation saw no fruit of their hope, no reason to rejoice. Yet, when John was born, there were still Jews who honored the laws, who worked toward purity. He found a group praying and waiting, day after day after day, to connect in some meaningful way with the God of their ancestors.
Those are my people.
The group waiting in the silence, living out the last words they were given because it’s all they’ve got, chasing a gritty, ridiculous, elusive hope in the darkness – they are my tribe. I get those people. That blank page is speaking my language. And like them, I know our Advent won’t end on December 24. But I hope it will end in time.
In this place, I don’t find comfort in the celebration of Advent as much as in the idea the Church saw fit to celebrate it. They looked at the season of darkness and marked it as sacred. When you’re living Advent it feels raw and unruly, but it is holy all the same. And when we enter it, we are in good company. Throughout Christian history, believers have spent much of their lives waiting for God to come through. Their wait – their stubborn refusal to walk away – was often their most faithful act.
So I light the candles, I sing the songs. I read the prophecies, and I wait. I sit in the darkness, eyes trained on the horizon, and I hope for Emmanuel to come again.