Have you ever found yourself facing down the start of December with absolutely no spark of Christmas cheer? That is where I am finding myself at this year. Advent has started today, and my Advent wreath has no candles in it.
Normally I look forward with great expectations for the coming start of the Christmas season and to going through the meditative Advent activities with my family. I like to see us each being attentive and watching and waiting for the coming of the baby on Christmas morning.
This year, however, I just can’t seem to muster up a festive spirit. I have a grieving and sad spirit. The days are turning colder and the hours of darkness after the sun sets have been getting longer. That is perfectly fine with me. It matches the mourning and darkness in my soul.
In normal years, when the fall arrives I begin to get excited for the changing of the seasons, taking in the breathtaking beauty of God’s handy work as he changes the colors of the leaves to glorious autumn colors. November comes in and brings with it one of my favorite holidays – Thanksgiving.
But this year, while I am still thankful for all I have been blessed with in this life, November itself has become a somber month filled with anniversaries of the passing of loved ones.
This November marked the fifteenth year since my beloved brother left us. We celebrate his life and are grateful for the memories we have of him. His passing marked the end of his lifelong struggle with a debilitating disease and we are comforted by the thoughts of him walking, running, and jumping with glee in glory – things that he could no longer do on this earth. So all of these years there has at least been joy in the sorrow. Happy rejoicing that Mike is free from the shackles that bound him here.
This November marked the first year anniversary since my beloved cousin was violently killed and taken from us. One year ago my entire family was in shock and reeling from the unexpected and sudden loss of him. While we are still all deeply saddened by this senseless loss of life, justice has been served and his killers are sentenced to jail for a very long time unable to hurt any other people and families.
This November has also brought with it another loss for me and my immediate family. The sudden illness that lead to one of our beloved beagle dogs crossing the Rainbow Bridge on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I am afraid that this latest loss for me has left me with a gaping hole in my heart. It is never easy to lose a pet, but the unexpectedness of it all has left me feeling sad and lonely, even in the midst of people who care about me very much.
So I decided yesterday to force myself to go through the motions and began pulling out the storage totes with Christmas decorations. We started decking the halls, so to speak, but when I came to the advent wreath, I must confess that I tucked it away back in the box it came out of. I just couldn’t bring myself to go through the motions of watching and waiting for joy and peace when my heart hasn’t been feeling either of those things.
Then today at church, our pastor reminded me during his message that the Israelites had their entire world uprooted and transplanted. They had been removed from the promised land and found themselves trying to make sense of it all as they attempted to pick up the pieces in Babylon. The favored, chosen children of God had been abandoned by him.
They were feeling lost, lonely and alone. Mourning and sadness filled their days. And yet, the Lord God has not abandoned them. He still has a plan of redemption for them. He promises them a hope and a future.
So perhaps this year I am more uniquely suited to come into the celebration of the Advent season than in any year prior to this. I am feeling the loss and loneliness that the ancient Israelites felt. I am the one mourning, seeking to make sense of the losses that are heavy on my heart. And just like those ancient children of God, I too can find hope and joy again.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
(Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV)
The advent wreath is back up out of the box. It is still empty, like I am feeling, but I have lit another candle next to it. A spark of hope during a season of the dark night of the soul for me. A spark of flame that tells me even in the midst of my sadness and pain, my God is still here with me waiting patiently for me to turn to him for comfort.
This world is full of lots of things. Pain, sadness, and suffering, but also kindness, mercy, and gladness. Most importantly, this world is filled with Love. God’s love. God’s love for us.
We are waiting for a baby to be born in a manger, but it is because of this baby that we have a hope for a future. One in the Father’s kingdom where there is no pain, sadness, or suffering.
Love came down at Christmas, so the old carol goes.
God is with us.
O come, o come Emmanuel