Rejoicing in the Darkness: Advent Part Three

Joy is the farthest thing from many people’s minds this week. In the midst of tragedy, whether we’re talking about the abhorrent shooting in Newtown, Connecticut or the personal tragedies like what Bekah and I are experiencing, rejoicing is not the first reflex. When we speak of grief, joy is not a concept we generally include. Even so, advent forces joy upon us, even when our spirits don’t feel like rejoicing. 

When we are walking through our valley of the shadow of death, we rarely want to speak of joy. To do so seems empty, as if we are simply repeating the lines to a play that no longer matches with our experience. Saying that we are rejoicing feels like we’re trying to ignore the pain that we are feeling. Are we simply cheapening the loss in order to have an immediate, albeit temporary, emotional high?

These are challenging thoughts for sure. Any flippant joyful words probably do more harm than good, but joy is still central to the advent season. So what do we do with it? How do we ever hope to speak of joy in the middle of such darkness, such loss.

Hope.Peace.Joy

Hope.Peace.Joy

Yesterday during worship I was reminded  that a key part of what we are rejoicing is Emmanuel, God-With-Us.  God is with us. That is both a comforting and a dis-comforting word in the midst of such tragedy. It is discomforting when we ask the “why” questions. If God were with us why didn’t God stop this from happening? Why didn’t God jam the gun; why didn’t God keep nutrients flowing through our son’s umbilical cord?   These questions are valid and should be wrestled with. God is not afraid of our questions; God invites them. That is where, to some extent, we begin to receive the comforting message of God-With-Us.  God is with us, even when we question God, even when we get angry with God, even when we blame God. Yet God-With-Us goes even deeper than that. A part of the advent message of Emmanuel is this:

God suffers.

God experiences our pain. God weeps with us in our anguish. God hates death just as much as we do; death is the enemy Jesus promises to defeat. In the Gospels we see Jesus sharing in our pain, as when he wept with the family of Lazarus at his death (John 11:33-35). The Gospels also share with us that Jesus suffered the most agonizing pain when he cried out from the cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  Jesus went there. “God…why?”

I can’t say it enough: God-With-Us proclaims that God experiences all of our pain, even the anguish of feeling as if God has left us alone.

That doesn’t ease our pain very much, and I know that well. It does, however, offer us some measure of comfort. The God we worship is not removed from our pain. God is wholly Other; God is outside of us: transcendent. At the same time, God is intimate. God walks the road that we walk. God experiences our loss and despair, just as much as we do. In our darkest moments, Emmanuel.

God is with us.

I hope and pray that for all those suffering this advent season, and even for myself, that these words are not empty. I know that at times they sound far-fetched and hard to believe, especially in our darkest moments. Even so, God.Is.With.Us. Hopefully, even in the abysmal darkness of the most hopeless night, this message will bring us some measure of joy.

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Categories: Theological Reflections | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Rejoicing in the Darkness: Advent Part Three

  1. Jaimie Sweem

    Once again, you leave me speechless and have found a way to help quiet my soul. You have found a way to simplify the message and bring comfort and joy to the hurting. We are so very blessed to have you in our family and I proud to call you brother. I love you so much. Thank you for sharing your insight.

  2. Bekah Ludlow Hart

    Reblogged this on Desert Journeys and commented:
    Blake’s Third Advent Blog

  3. Thanks for sharing Blake—such a blessing.

  4. Jane Carpenter

    Blake, I have struggled with joy before. After my mother and father passed away, I had such a hard time with overwhelming grief, I couldn’t get a grip on how to use my faith. I had listened to countless Sunday School lessons about faith and heard many sermons about being faithful, but now…..suddenly, it was time to pull out the faith I knew about and actually put it to use. What really shocked me was how God ministered to me after this. I began to have a definite division of thought about being ‘happy’ and feeling ‘joyful’. I came to find they are two different things. I realized I felt joy that my parents were in heaven, even though I wasn’t happy they were gone. I found that joy welled up in me as I said goodbye to them, even though the hurt was tremendous, As this became a reality to me, I have looked back in my life and identified lots of bad situations that had ‘joy’ in them. Hurt that I wouldn’t see Allen everyday – when he went away to college. Terrible hurt, to miss him every day….but so joyous he was arriving at adulthood and was using the life skills we had taught him for seventeen years. Situation after situation came flooding back to show me the real meaning of ‘joy’. Being unhappy and in a valley can be warm and peaceful, especially when you see the joy….. that God has thought enough of me to teach me….it’s the valley not the mountaintop where you run to Him, learn from Him. It’s why the book of James is so comforting – he explains it so well! Love to you both as you move through this journey. Merry Christmas ,Jane

  5. Candace Faggen

    I feel the way Jane feels. I was most joyous in Iraq…Because I was spending A LOT of time with God, and I learned so much. I even soaked up everything the Bible, William Barclay, and CS Lewis had to say like it was Dr. Seuss, (Nancy Drew), and Anne Rice. This is while most over there were having nightmares and self medicating in various ways. This was also in direct opposition to my fear of happiness–because it will be taken away…but God has changed that, too. (In part through you and Bekah.) Joy can be a quiet refuge and it doesn’t have to look like happiness to be real. We Love Y’all.

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