The season of advent is one that is very dear to me. From very early on, it was instilled in me that Christmas is about more than the gifts that we receive. We celebrate something more than an overweight man squeezing through chimneys to give good kids presents and bad ones coal. This holiday is about the coming of Jesus, and the season of advent reminds us that we must wait, we must anticipate his coming. Each candle of the advent wreath reminds us of that waiting, of what people for all of history have been longing for. I’ve always cherished the liturgy of lighting the candles, thinking about what those people of ancient history must have felt, and then looking forward to the coming of Christ, our Savior. All of that, however, feels and looks much different for me this year.
Bekah and I are experiencing a mixture of emotions right now. On one hand, we don’t want to celebrate Christmas because we hadn’t planned on doing so while stateside. We should be in our home in Arica, Chile. We should be reflecting on what it was like for Mary and Joseph as first-time parents, with new insight from being first-time parents ourselves. We should have more in common with Christmas (the birth of a son), than with Good Friday (the loss of a son). But that is not our lot.
On the other hand, we want to celebrate Christmas. We want some sense of normalcy to return. Not that we want to forget what has happened to us, but we want to try to pick up the pieces of a shattered dream and learn to live again. Part of us wants to celebrate Christmas as a way of defiantly saying that we are not going to let death rule our lives.
I think we probably spend more time in the first “hand” than in the second. Our world, our life, has stopped. Time stands still, and we don’t want to move forward. Since March we’ve been preparing to celebrate Christmas with our newborn child. We don’t want to celebrate anymore but, regardless of how we feel, advent is here and the first candle of the advent season symbolizes hope.
People long ago sat in darkness; they felt as if God was offering silence in response to their struggles, hardships, and sorrows. I’m often reminded of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It describes the people as “mourning in lonely exile,” as being under “gloomy clouds of night” and “death’s dark shadow.” It asks God to save the people from “Satan’s tyranny” and “the depths of hell.”
I resonate much more with that song than ever before. In the midst of our grief, the darkness seems to be winning. I now can understand much more fully what it means to be beneath “gloomy clouds of night.” “Death’s dark shadow” seems to be all around us, and if anyone can experience “the depths of hell,” I would think losing a child puts you rather close.
The temptation is just to stay there. Just to let the darkness surround me, to let all hope fade, and to grieve as one with no hope. Advent, however, is forcing me to remember that there is hope. Even though I don’t feel it, there is hope, and in this first week of the advent season, I’m trying to claim that hope, whether I feel it or not. Salvation from the dark shadow of death is on its way, and I long for that more than ever before. Therefore, in hope, I eagerly await our coming Messiah.