Advent is simple, unpretentious and sadly ignored. I often hear, “I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas.” No one, however, seems concerned about the dwindling days of Advent.
Advent focuses on the Old Testament, particularly on the prophets proclaiming a coming Messiah. Of that day, Isaiah says, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us…They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father Forever, Prince of Peace.”
These words feed the anticipation of Advent, but the prophets also suggest we are going to have to go much deeper to realize its promise.
Walter Brueggemann says that the prophets followed a pattern. They first named the reality the people were facing. They grieved for their people in their darkness. Only then did they deliver those words of hope.
We might do well to make that our Advent path.
The joy of Christmas is great, but it can mask other things going on in our lives. If we are honest, it is not always “the hap-, hap-, happiest time of the year.”
There are those who have lost someone. There are couples on the brink. There is a woman with an unwanted pregnancy and another who can’t conceive. Someone who can’t get up without a drink and another who can’t sleep without a pill.
A young girl sees no meaning and an old man has outlived his. There are parents who can’t control their kids, and kids who can’t care for their parents. There is unwanted news from the doctor, the plumber, the school, or the bank.
The prophets taught us that it is not enough to name the troubles. We have to admit all that we harbor because of them: the terrors that stalk, the anger that festers, the envy that eats away, the loneliness that imprisons, and the depression that paralyzes.
What we need is hope, but that doesn’t come from words on a page, not even Isaiah’s.
Hope comes from standing knee-deep in the pain and realizing that we cannot do it alone.
There in the silence and suffering, there in the smoldering ashes of our lives, is the fruit of Advent.
That is when we find Emmanuel, God with us.
That’s when, Isaiah assures us “the spirit of the Lord is upon me…to place those who mourn in Zion a diadem instead of ashes, to give them oil of gladness instead of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.”