After a few weeks of asking, “Is it bedtime yet?” only to realize the clock’s hands barely skimmed six, I resigned that winter’s darkness had hijacked my circadian rhythms and sentenced me to a bone-deep weariness I couldn’t shake. This season of bleary yearning is upon me. I live in anticipation for the light to come again.
Advent is here.
I didn’t grow up celebrating the liturgical calendar. As a child, Advent was twenty-four numbered cardboard doors I’d punch out of a nativity scene to reveal a tiny chocolate treat on the countdown to Christmas morning celebrating Jesus’ birth. In the interim, we’d conjure sentimentality, good cheer, and celebration through all the prescribed Christmas-y things we could manage.
I tried exorcising my melancholy with good deeds and a moral imperative to fill the ever deepening void in my world with tinseled fistfuls of merriment, consumerism, and delusion.
I grasped hold of jaunty carols sung through candy cane-stained lips, cookie platters wrapped in green and red saran wrap dropped off at neighbor’s homes and gifts dropped off for those in need. I circled Black Friday ads with lusty eyes imagining it would fill some hunger in me. I loaded my cart like I could vicariously stockpile joy and swiped my Visa card until the plastic was as warm as my mitten-covered fingers.
I convinced myself I was generous and giving, the hands and feet of Jesus, until January’s statement came and the panicked realization followed that I was neither. I gave and served and smiled in hopes to receive, to numb, to mask, to be accepted. In hopes that not only could the world be made right but I could be made right as well.
I hoisted obligatory positivity onto my shoulders and anesthetized myself into a giddy stupor. The facade might’ve saved me if I just played the part of the down-on-her-luck mom with a heart of gold hoping to make Christmas meaningful and worthwhile for everyone around her.
In 2010, my father died a couple weeks before Advent, and grief assaulted me with a new kind of waiting. It took shape in the form of my memories. My father’s deep laugh, the weight of his palm on my shoulder, the knowledge that a man I loved so deeply was gone before he turned sixty. Much too young, much too soon. He suffered every day leading up to his homegoing. I agonized between wanting him free from pain and at peace and wanting him here for me, for my mom, for my kids to know their Papaji. But healing didn’t come. Death and darkness came and took.
The hollow his life left swallowed any chance I had at ever looking at this season with pristine sugar-coated brightness. The sheen faded from the pearly snow, replaced with the marred tracks of muddy boots and exhaust as we trudged into his memorial service. My five-year-old daughter wore her velvet Christmas dress as if she were attending a celebratory pageant. Instead of dissonance, grieving even as we celebrated made sense. I could no longer see one without the other.
I once imagined myself a Scrooge when I felt anything less than unbridled delight for a Savior who’d abandon heaven to selflessly join the ruckus down here. If only I were more grateful, served more, gave more, celebrated more, Tiny Tim would live, declare “God bless us, everyone!” and all would be made right.
But often this world doesn’t have the happy ending of that Dickensian tale. Today’s Tiny Tim could easily be Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a sixteen-year-old Guatemalan migrant, who died of the flu lying alone on the floor of a South Texas holding cell. Tragically, there was no repentant Scrooge or Ghost of Christmas Future to prophecy truth to power this time.
Jesus came that we would have life everlasting, but to recognize the gift of that is to know darkness. It is to know that the catastrophe that is death surrounds us. The darkness is near. It is deep. It is felt. We can delude ourselves, or we can step into it. I lament the heartbreaking injustice and loss of Carlos’ life.
We are a people of anticipation, or we are a people of despair. As people who believe in Christ, hope is our native tongue, but we are tongue-tied, sputtering when the world is vulgar and cruel and so heartbreakingly unfixed, when the darkness comes too soon and stays too long, when death cackles and clatters against our bones and we fear it might overtake us with grief and longing and the wrongness of it all. When the world isn’t just unfair but unjust and the light seems to fade more than fight, we have Advent.
Instead of denying the darkness in and around us, Advent lets us sit beneath the silent sky filled with inky black midnight waiting for the promised star.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
Advent invites us to reconcile our grief, to face the darkness, to confess our deep need and finitude, to confront our sin and error as we pine for glory. Advent allows us to dwell in our fleshiness and hunger whetting our appetites for the feast to come. It pays proper attention to a world in agony, in labor, waiting in anticipation like a virgin mother, storing up mystery and wonder in the midst of the pain. All things are being reconciled to Christ.
Advent cultivates a subversive hope, knowing that unto us a Savior is born.
For more on facing the darkness and maintaining a language of hope, Alia Joy’s book, Glorious Weakness: Discovering God in All We Lack, acknowledges our discomfort, desperation, and dependence is where God meets us the most.
Advent cultivates a subversive hope, knowing that unto us a Savior is born. -@aliajoyh: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
In many first-world countries, like the US, we really don’t see that we need a Savior. When there is no want and material abundance is plentiful, there often isn’t a deep ache in our soul. In many countries, where people have far less, their hope in Jesus is all they have and strangely, it is enough. So thankful for a Savior, who when His light shines, makes all the tinsel and glitter of fake Christmas dull in comparison to His radiance. When I bring my hurting soul before Him, I await His coming (His Advent) with great anticipation. My troubles may not disappear, but I know I have a Savior who, with His grace, will be sufficient to meet all my needs. Joining with you in dwelling in my “fleshiness” and awaiting the feast to come. Beautiful…
arian osborne says
This was so beautifully written and so full of truth for some of us. Thank you.
Michele Morin says
Advent and wilderness go together in my thinking and in my celebration. Somehow in the desert, every little splash of color is more vivid and, therefore, more appreciated.
Dana Butler says
Yes, yes, yes, friend. Advent is balm to my soul this year in particular for all of these reasons— you give them language so perfectly. I don’t have to shove my laments under the tree skirt & *only* rejoice—I can rejoice *because* I’m allowed to freely face my world’s reality, and my own, and lament in His presence, and be met by Him there. Because He’s Emmanuel.
I love you. Thank you for the gift & sacrifice this is, here today. Peace & grace to you & may He tangibly hold your heart.
Richella J. Parham says
“As people who believe in Christ, hope is our native tongue. . . . ” Thank you, Alia, for this poignant reminder.
Cammie Plath says
Oh how your words and thoughts resonate with me. I lost my dad almost two years ago a few weeks after Christmas, he was suffering during the Advent season and it was painful to see. Grief is especially present with me right now. But yet so is hope- the hope that only comes through Jesus. The word He has been giving to me over and over this month is Rejoice. I’m seeking to do that, rejoicing in the gift that I so do not deserve, our Savior. Thank you, Alia, for your heartfelt and honest words that move me so deeply. I’m praying for you.
M @ In Beautiful Chaos says
Your posts are always so honest and beautifully written! They give voice to many a sentiment the rest of us would struggle putting into words. Thank you for sharing your heart!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos
Alia, your post this morning touched me in some deep raw places and made me weep… with sadness and joy… I thank God for your ability to cut through the pretense of all we pretend to be a celebrate and speak truth regarding the hope of the Christ child and the even great hope that He will come again. Blessing on you this advent season.
Theresa Boedeker says
Hope and sadness. Joy and sorrow. They so often go together. Even in the Christmas story. Thanks for this reminder. So often we are trying to keep only the joy and hope in the forefront, that we miss the sadness and sorrow that accompany it all.
Rachel D says
There is so much truth in what you have written! This post reminds me of an experience I had right before Christmas last year; I shared it on Facebook the day it happened. “When I was walking at lunch time today, a police car pulled up blocking traffic on the street from one direction, and the officer got out to stop the traffic coming the other way. It turned out that there was a funeral procession coming from one of the side streets. I thought how horrible it must be for that family having a funeral and burial so close to Christmas and got a little teary while I was praying for them. Ironically, ‘Joy to the World’ was playing on my iPod right then, and it suddenly reminded me once again that horrible things, death most of all, are the real reason Jesus came. Christmas isn’t always a joyful time for people, and that’s why we have it; without sin and its curse, we wouldn’t have needed it. There really is joy for the world in this season, but it isn’t because everything is perfect. It’s because God made a way to fix all the imperfections.”
K Ann Guinn says
Powerful. Thanks for reminding us about the truth of our waiting and the hope of Advent.
JENNIFER K COOK says
Your vocabulary is incredible! This is a post that makes you go hmmmm. Love the picture as well!
Julia Broeders says
I tried to read this yesterday on a break at work in a bustling breakroom but I should have known better: your writing is never a quick snack, it is a full, nourishing, colorful meal to be savored. I’ll be sharing this to encourage friends in this season seasoned much like yours, with grief AND hope. Thank you again for putting your heart on the page. ~ JulieB
Beth Williams says
Society says “you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps”; “do it yourself you don’t need any help.” We live in a place & time that doesn’t see the need for a savior. We have plenty right in front of us. Sadly most don’t want to hear about Jesus. Many hardly say Merry Christmas anymore. I, though, and many like me are living in anticipation of what is to come in the next life. I can’t wait to see Jesus who left His splendor of Heaven for me & walk the streets of Gold. This world down here is dark & appears to be getting darker by the day. So much disunity, hatred & mistrust. Not the stuff of Heaven. We can rejoice in the midst of all this by shining His light in this world & knowing in our hearts that a savior was born to save us from ourselves.
Becky Lowmaster says
Alia Joy, I enjoyed your writing about advent! I didn’t know advent either when I was growing up either. I enjoy knowing about it now. We always need something to look forward to. I’m thankful Jesus came to earth to be with us. I’ve been reading Luke this month. Interesting journey from birth to death and then resurrection of Jesus. Looking forward to His return to earth….
Our season of loss was grandbaby #4…20 weeks no heartbeat found in Nov. Two days later baby removed from daughter in law. Found out this week baby was a girl. Sad it happened but Beatrice is with Jesus. I often think what she’d look like. Beautiful long dark brown hair just like her 2 older sisters. My eyes just tear writing this. Won’t get to see her til later. But it’s ok. Thankful for Jesus ….our savior being born. He lived and survived as his earthly father, Joseph, followed God’s plan from dreams. No text on a cell phone! Merry Christmas, Alia Joy!!!
Jenny Woodward says
Thank you for sharing your grief, your hope, your revelation, and a bit of your precious soul. It is a sacred trust. Walking through the final days with the grandfather who raised me, and I have wondered “what’s wrong with me?” as my emotions can’t rise to the fevered pitch of the season. Well meaning Christian friends are quick to remind me of the hope of heaven, brushing past the hurt that is happening as I watch him waste away day by agonizing day. Your words- they mean so much. Sacred. Sacred words. Thank you.
Alia Joy. Your writing penetrates my heart. I have a couple of chapters left in your book. I don’t want it to end.
I am grateful you write.
That you wrote your book. That publishers took it to print.
Thank you many times over for sharing your life. Not an easy thing to do.
We live in the tension with hope wrapped around our hearts.