Today is the first Sunday of Celtic Advent. 40 days of darkness, of waiting, of yearning, of hoping. In the past few years, I’ve come to love Advent far more than I love Christmas. Perhaps the consumerism of Christmas has soured me. But really I think the long dark nights and the short cold days of Advent quietly begin to call me back into a place of hope in the midst of hopelessness. I need Advent for Christmas to mean anything. Like Lent preparing me for Easter; like Good Friday preparing me for Easter Sunday, Advent drags me into spaces I cannot face and lays me bare before a seeming absent God.
And I beg for God to show up.
In the wake of Paris, Beirut, Egypt, Syrian, Lebanon, & the many other places around the world that daily go unnamed in their grief and loss, I find voice in the much-shared poem by Somali-British poet Warsaw Shire:
what they did yesterday afternoon
by warsan shire
they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.
later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
During Advent we consciously enter the darkness and pain of our worlds. We remember the horrors of the world Jesus was born into: Roman imperialism, crucifixions, poverty, the silence of God. When we enter into our places of pain, we voice our anger against God, our questions (“Why!?”), our fears for our very lives, and our need to connect, to trust, to live in peace. During Advent, joy almost capitulates to hope. Sure we know that joy comes with the dawn of Christmas, but no one would have known that during the first Advent, those first nine months of waiting in fear and expectation. But hope… ahhh, hope! Hope does not disappoint us. Hope impregnates our despair in Advent, creating a womb of darkness.
The evil has not left. The burdens are still heavy. But within these still dark nights and all-too-short cloudy days, we latch on to hope whether the joy comes or not. For many, joy this year will be elusive. Joy competes too often with happiness, and the feelings are fleeting. But hope buries itself into our souls, even when we’ve long past giving up, and we wake to face another day with that tiny spark of: “Maybe…”, “Soon…”, “Someone’s coming…”
Join me. Sing with me. We are in this darkness together, it cannot overcome us.