Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent, not Christmas (yet)

This Sunday marked the first Sunday of Advent, one of my favorite church seasons (though I feel like I say that about all of them). Gone are the perpetually green vestments and the repetitive tediousness of the Sundays after Pentecost. Enter Sarum blue and the twinkling of the candles on the Advent wreath against the darkness of the shortening days. Enter, stage left, John the Baptist and the nativity without the baby Jesus.

American culture doesn’t do Advent. We don’t do waiting, silently preparing in our hearts for Christmas. And I’m not going to pretend that I wait until Christmas eve to put up my tree or listen to Christmas music. I live in two worlds – one where I sit quietly and focus on my Advent devotion and the other where I hustle and bustle with the best of them, going from shopping to holiday parties.


Advent seems particularly relevant for me this year as I’m ministering in a childrens’ hospital. There are so many times when I’m ready to throw up my hands, to admit that darkness has won. How long, Lord, how long must parents bewail a fatal diagnosis or sit anxiously in the surgery waiting room as a brain tumor is removed? How do people not just give up? How do I not give up? Coming back to the hospital, day after day, holding hands, saying prayers, trying to be a small light in the overwhelming darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Along with the literal darkness of the sun starting its descent before 4 pm, there is so much darkness in the world. I see the individual darkness in people’s lives – cancer, sick and dying children, child abuse. But there’s societal darkness as well – economic injustice, hunger and starvation, unemployment, racism, sexism, etc. It’s so overwhelming that I can see why people give up and resign themselves to cynicism or apathy.


In the darkness, the light shines even brighter. As Sam Portaro said, the lights on the Advent wreath are not talismans against darkness but testaments to the light. The light is here, incarnate among us. The light is the strength within the human soul that fights against giving into the darkness. The light is as simple as getting out of bed to live another day in the face of devastating loss. The light is a group of people’s insistence that their voices matter because they are people, because they are children of God.

The light is incarnate among us if we only look for it around us and let it illuminate our souls.