As I watched the sun peek over the rooftops this morning, I thought about a conversation I had with a very close friend last night. We had been sharing with each other about the pain we are experiencing within ourselves and on behalf of those we love, and wondering why certain struggles seem to last SO long.
Both of us have been dwelling deeply in Advent this year, choosing to hold onto the hope that the Light of the world has come, and will come again. But last night we wondered aloud about the nature of this hope, and the joy that it brings. Advent hope feels so different from Easter hope, when our joy springs from Jesus’ resurrection – the wild, death-defying, victorious event on which we peg our faith.
Advent ends in Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of a vulnerable baby, born into a family enveloped by the scandal of his unbelievable conception, who became a refugee when he was barely old enough to walk. Then he grew into a kid who surely learned the hard way the pain of sticking your hand into a flame, turning corners too fast and a host of other things that kids have to figure out. Then he was a teenager, which was probably awkward, and then he became a carpenter, which was probably boring at times. Only after 30 years of life on earth, experiencing what it is to human (with the accompanying joys and sorrows), did Jesus enter his 3 years of public ministry. Then things got harder for him, and he ended up on a cross. (Today’s Old Testament reading from the lectionary happens to be Isaiah 53, which spells out what it meant for Jesus to be a suffering servant.) And THEN he rose from the dead! Alleluia!
So when we sing Christmas carols about joy to the world, peace on earth, silent nights and figgy puddings, the hope is real. But it’s not a quick-fix kind of hope. Oh how I wish it was! But it’s not. That’s why I cling to certain lyrics of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” like a lifeline.
O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The joy of Advent doesn’t come from the immediate victory over death, but the fact that the Dayspring from on high did, in fact, draw nigh. The Incarnation happened. God chose to be WITH us. In the beauty and the pain. Alleluia.