"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned." - Isaiah 9:2
Do you know what scared me more than anything about camping out the first night I took a group of kids into the woods at outdoor adventure camp? And by the way - I was the counselor, not some 12 year old who just wanted to have her cell phone back and sleep in her own bed. Nope. It was me - 19 years old, about done with college, and terrified of something that I was loath to admit to anyone.
It was the dark.
The dark scared me more than anything else. What was in it that I couldn't see? What if one of the kids got scared and I couldn't fake being brave well enough in front of them? Yup. It scared me more than heights (shocker to anybody who worked with me that year and watched me try to jump off the big swing up at ropes 3).
It's the best symbol we have for anything unknown - darkness.
God's people . . . human people . . . have always been walking in darkness.
We've been walking in darkness since the first brothers got jealous of each other. Jealous enough to fight and kill.
We've been walking in darkness ever since we feared our own ignorance and took from God the one thing not meant for us . . . and then blamed it on each other.
We've been walking in darkness ever since we first noticed that other people were different. Ever since we hated them for it. Ever since we were scared of each other. Forever.
So what did our big symbol for the Goodness of the world have to be? What did we need? How could we be slowed down? How could we be shut up long enough to listen?
A star. One of those tiny needle points of light. Nothing like the pictures we put in children's books - not a blazing, yellow, five pointed, geometric painting. Nope. A regular star. But a new one. A different one. Small.
"I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus . . . in Him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike. The lamb is the light of the city of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus."
Just listen to this choir and let them melt the skepticism. I need so much to be reminded that it doesn't matter what darkness sits here with us in the world. There is a light. One light. And it started small. It was like other stars - "Just old light." But it seemed new to us.
Have you ever done something because you were desperate for it to exist? You looked other places and couldn't find it? So you made it for yourself? I heard Toni Morrison talk about her writing that way recently - she wanted to read a certain book. A book that talked about a certain thing . . . . but she couldn't find it anywhere. She couldn't find that anybody had said it. So she said it. She wrote it.
Did God not look here and see that although much had been created, there was one thing still to create? And so God created it? This one new star . . . this Jesus . . . this innocence.
We are so far removed from this Jesus walking the Earth. So many years and nations and wars and opinions and scholars are standing between us and whoever He was.
What are we supposed to think when it's Advent or Christmastide and we are sitting next to a deathbed? What are we supposed to do when the family fight is still raging on and we can't go home? Or everything we own is about to get repossessed? Or we just got fired? Or we have this one miracle desperately needed and it's not happened yet? What then? What do we do when God is silent?
We believe. We do the hard work of facing the holes in the world and filling them with whatever goodness we still know . . . and we believe. It's not even really waiting. Not passive waiting - not like the outer room in a doctor's office. We are working in our waiting. It's much more apt to say that we are watching. Haven't you ever heard that gospel song that says, "He taught me how - how to watch, fight, and pray?"
And what are we watching and fighting for?
I don't know anything about you well enough to know what you have been watching for. But I will tell you what I've been watching for ever since I was a little girl sitting in church on the last Sunday of Advent . . . I have been watching for that Rose that everybody sings about . . . blooming in the middle of the winter - "When half spent was the night." When everything looked just about done. When people were being ugly in their humanity. When the religious were trapped in their rules to the point of hatefulness. That Rose blooming in the cold of our condition.
That's my Rose. That's the Rose I'm waiting for. I can feel this unwarranted Joy, friends. It wells up in my heart not because of ornaments and lights or gifts or even family. Dear ones, all of this could be taken away and it would still be there. It was still there the first Christmas after my grandmother had passed. It was still there when my family didn't know where one of our loved ones had gone. It was still there when I thought I'd lost my job and then in the days that followed, when one of my most wished-for dreams was crushed completely. It was there when my husband and I had our first fight. It has been there still when we've disappointed each other. It is still there even when the Church lets me down.
"There is no Rose of such virtue as is the Rose that bare Jesu. Alleluia."
Advent has always been close to my heart, much like Lent. These are seasons of intentional waiting. We wait for something in particular. We wait with a purpose. And even though Christmastide has those five candles lit in the center of it (Joy, Peace, Love, Hope, and Christ), we know that there's a shadow falling across the whole thing.
I won't say that the shadow is the cross. Nothing so bloody as that. He's the Rose that rose. Death becomes less than nothing. No . . . the shadow is ourselves. Us.
We have made ourselves bigger even than the thing that gives us life, and our shadows fall across it, making its light seem small.
What will you wait for?
And what will your work be as you are waiting?
I will tell you what my current Advent is - the work of my Advent is the work of decreasing to a zero so that something can be bigger than I have been to myself. That's the honest truth.
"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, The creator of the ends of the Earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable." - Isaiah 40: 28
So God is unsearchable in God's understanding. And we can't find Him out. We can't make God be whatever we want God to be. God can't be forced to act like a human king or a president. God doesn't grant wishes. But the breath in my lungs belongs to God. And while I can't search God out to understand Him . . . I can wait. I can watch. And where there are holes in the world, I can pour out some of this unwarranted light that I have - this Joy-Light - and that will be enough for now.
Happy Advent to You,