“Because we are in a place of waiting, God’s people must take the time patiently to hope in a world that thinks that it has no time for hope or patience.” – Stanley Hauerwas
I’m going to be very honest with you: the message of waiting that Advent puts forth to believers feels especially hard for me this year. There are many reasons why, but the big one is the knowledge I have for what 2019 holds.
In 2018, the father of one my closest friends died of cancer, my grandpa died, and this fall we found out my brother and his wife’s baby boy due to be born in February 2019 has Trisomy 18, a condition that causes severe developmental delays and is usually fatal before birth or within the first year of life. It seems that death has surrounded me and closes in even more as 2018 ends and 2019 begins. The Advent message of waiting on the Lord has sounded good in the past, but this year, waiting feels like a hell-of-a-burden to bear.
Waiting when you know or at least feel that the worst is yet to come is perhaps one of the hardest places I’ve ever been. To wait patiently, to wait hopefully, seems like an impossible task.
Waiting when you know or at least feel that the worst is yet to come is perhaps one of the hardest places I’ve ever been. To wait patiently, to wait hopefully, seems like an impossible task. As Christmas nears, the weight of waiting just seems to get heavier. I think about the gifts I would’ve been buying if the diagnosis were different. I cry at the children singing at church because I know I will never see the child our family waits for sing in his church. I think about the new year and the hope a fresh calendar brings, and I feel an overwhelming heaviness at what the days of winter and even past that might hold.
Last night as I was scrolling through Facebook, one of my friends had posted a question: “Anyone experiencing a deep weariness this Advent?” he wrote. As I looked through all 15 comments, the resounding reply was “YES!” It seemed like there was a collective relief in the commenters – a relief that allowed them to see they were not the only ones, they were not alone, they were part of a group – a group of weary journeyers.I did not comment, but I certainly am part of that group.
Similarly, I received this text from a friend yesterday about the political time America is in: “It’s so hard not to be discouraged right now,” he wrote. I honestly smiled at the text; it was so fitting. It’s so hard not to be discouraged right now. In this season of Advent, of waiting, of hoping, it feels so hard to wait because the other side does not seem like it will bring any relief. Hope sounds good right now, but reality does not feel good.
“The world floods in on all of us.”
Frederick Buechner writes of these sentiments:
“The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strength our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar.”
This Advent, it has felt as easy as ever to feel like the promises of Advent do not apply. I join that group of commenters on the Facebook post and answer “YES! I do feel weary!” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” This Advent, I’ve felt like I do not want to make time to hope. Why? Because that seems like time poorly spent. Why hope when sadness seems to permeate what used to be a season that sparkled like snow?
As I stood at church on Sunday, the weariness weighing on my heart, we as a congregation began to sing ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel.’
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The congregation sang through the verses, and tears began to stream down my face. This is not a feel-good Christmas song – this is a song for Advent. This is a song for the deeply weary, for the discouraged and downtrodden, for the hopeless who desperately want to hope but cannot seem to feel such a hope. But ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ contains a promise to us: Emmanuel SHALL come to thee.
Emmanuel — “God with us” — will pay the ransom, beat death, bring peace, be the light of the world and banish the hopelessness of darkness even when we do not believe, even when we are weary, even when we are not patient in the waiting. Even when we worry about what is to come, even when we get angry with God for putting this part in our stories. Even when we cry out to the question of if we are weary: “YES! Yes, Lord: yes. Yes, I am weary.”
But what can only be described as the Holy Spirit in me is not letting me go. I am reminded of the comfortable words of my Lord Jesus Christ, words I heard repeated back to me as I kneeled on the carpet of a church floor in Western Pennsylvania. They are words that recognize my weariness. They are words for this season and every one before it and after it. They are words that transcend feeling and proclaim the truth that Emmanuel sees and cares and shall come again.
So I listen to the comfortable words and I repeat them again. I wait – weary as ever – I take comfort in knowing that God with us is also God for us. I may not feel it, but it is true. I pray my heart will come back to this truth even as I resist against what is to come. This waiting feels so heavy, but His burden is light.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”