I’ve never really understood Advent, we always had Advent calendars and I knew it was about a countdown to Christmas somehow and that waiting was involved, then a few weeks ago I said kind of deliberately that I want to learn about Advent this year. And weirdly enough my friend Isaac randomly asked me to do a reading on the first Sunday of Advent at our church (Wits’ End) so I said yay okay. Isaac has an M.Div and knows too much about this stuff. So in this reading Isaac wrote he’d made a kind of mash-up of Old and New Testament scriptures about the coming of a Messiah who will supposedly heal and redeem the world. There was a heavy atmosphere at church that night. It was reminding me of Lent. We read from the book of Habbakuk where he said “How long must I cry for help but you do not listen?” All growing up I got the message to focus on the joy of Christmas and the fact that Jesus came but I never could get that excited about it, it always felt hollow and I tried hard to muster up happy emotion for it but of course that can’t be done. It was beginning to click for me the other night that when you have leaned into your pain and sorrow and are rescued from it, joy comes then. Isaac was saying that Advent is a rehearsal or embodiment of the groaning of all of creation as it waits for the Messiah to return and make things right. We lit a candle and sang O Come O Come Emmanuel and talked about our Jewish ancestors who kept the light of hope burning for so many centuries, waiting, groaning, and we deliberately entered into the despair of long-awaited hope with them and talked about how we learn from them how to wait for our hope and help to return. We talked about the mystery of a Messiah who would appear in a very particular time and place where the Word would be made flesh and light would come. We read from Isaiah 53 foretelling this Messiah coming. It said he would be “despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, familiar with pain…we held him in low esteem” then we read Psalm 80 which was pleading “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, awaken your might. Come and save us. Restore us.” This resonates so deeply with me, the longing and anger and feeling forgotten and disposed of. THIS I can get behind. In that part of the service we usually celebrate eucharist but in Advent we’re deliberately entering into the experience of groaning for God to be closer and that is how we will consume eucharist each week until Christmastide. At the end we sat with the weird and difficult task of holding onto both our future hope and present suffering. We read Habbakuk’s conversation with God, where God promises to right all wrongs, and Job’s lament to God. “Look at the nations, watch and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told.” “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? Terrors overwhelm me; my dignity is driven away as by the wind, my safety vanishes like a cloud….I will stand at my watch; I will look to see what God will say to me.”
I think I'm figuring out this Advent thing.