This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Tag: advent

Come, O Light, Come

 

A heavy blanket of darkness envelops our world on this the darkest night of the year. For those of us living in the northern hemisphere, this winter solstice, this stopping of the sun, heralds the end of the disappearance of light and the beginning of its return.

 

But all we notice is the dark.

 

Today in Philadelphia, we will turn our faces upward to catch a slim 8 hours and 20 minutes of light. Barely enough, but far more than our Alaskan compatriots who will wait to see a mere 3 or 4 hours of sunlight this day. During the deep midwinter, most of us long for greater illumination from this most-treasured of celestial orbs.

 

Most of us don’t typically like the dark.

 

Unless we are dining by candlelight in the cocoon of darkened walls, enhancing the glow on friends’ faces, on fine china, on elegant crystal. Unless we are nestled around a roaring fire, whose radiance takes the chill out of a winter night laden with stars.

 

In the dark we are always searching for the light.

 

The darkness awakens in us a sense of foreboding. It disquiets our soul and awakens in us the knowledge that we are no longer fully in control. In the dark we realize how much we walk by sight, taking steps forward only when we can see the road ahead. The dark swallows up our assurance, leaving us with a choice to make.

 

Stay still, or begin to walk by faith.

 

O come thou Day-Spring,

Come and cheer

Our spirits by thine advent here

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night

And death’s dark shadows put to flight

 

How we long for the light. This third stanza from the haunting Christmas carol, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel reminds us that it will not always be night. As surely as the dawn follows the dark, we can be assured that the true Light will spring forth like a new day.

 

Like a light into all of our darkness.

 

And so we wait. But like the awakening of a new dawn, it may take time. At times we too live in a bleak midwinter season, where our own piece of earth stands hard as iron, water like a stone, and we struggle to glimpse any beam of light at all.

 

What is your present darkness that you are plodding through in hopes of making your way forward to the light?

 

This time last year I had no way of knowing I would bury my father in one month and my mother in two. This time last year I had no way of knowing the new medical challenges that would stalk my family this year. I lost count at 66 medical appointments for two of my kids and me this year. You can do the math. That’s more than one medical appointment per week; that’s a high number.

 

But to me, it’s more than a number.

 

The number represents loss. A loss of time. Time scheduling appointments. Time researching options. Time driving. Time waiting. Time conferring with doctors. Time paying bills. Okay, let’s just say it…time worrying. And at the end of all this time, when there is still little resolution to some of these concerns, it all feels a bit like I’ve been wandering around in the dark, bumping into unseen obstacles in my path, and wondering when the light will break through and show me the way forward.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.

 

Perhaps I’ve been looking for the wrong light. Perhaps I’ve been confusing resolution to long-prayed prayers with moving forward. Could there be a journey in the dark whose worth far exceeds any journey we take in the light? It is in the dark that I must yield my need for control to the practice of trust.

 

Trust not that I’ll get the answers but that God is the answer.

 

This is the kind of trust that makes room for hope, and hope always welcomes the Light and prepares it a way.

 

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, o Israel

 

We can choose to move forward in the dark, in steadied hope that the light will indeed come. Waiting in the literal dark of this Advent reminds us that no matter how dark a season of life may seem, light will always break through, for the Light has surely come. When we wait in faith, we can catch glimmers of light before the dawn, before the Day-Spring, that invite us to step further into the light.

 

The world lays still tonight in darkness, but things will not always be thus. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!

 

Advent Hope

 

I’m wrestling with Advent this year.

 

I desperately wanted this Advent to be a season of peaceful reflection and soul gripping hope, but to be honest, hope feels especially far beyond my grasp this year. All the Advent talk of desire and anticipation, of waiting and watching, of hoping and dreaming has seemed to shine a spotlight on all that I am still waiting for.

 

On all that I have just about given up hope for.

 

I didn’t grow up in a tradition of marking time through a church calendar. For me the month of December meant one thing and one thing only – Christmas! Christmas and all that went with it – the lists, the gift buying and giving, the lights, the cooking and eating, the carols, the laughter, time spent with those we love, and most of all, the Nativity. The birth of Immanuel, God with us.

 

There’s nothing wrong with this approach to December and Christmas. But for me, it was almost as though December was about my getting ready for everything I had to do, and then on Christmas Eve I would prepare my heart for the coming of the King.

 

When your heart is as prone to wandering as mine is, perhaps 48 hours just isn’t enough time to prepare for the arrival of the King of Kings.

 

For the past several years I have been worshiping at a church that celebrates the liturgical calendar, and with it, Advent. And because of that, I now have a slow four weeks to prepare my heart and mind for the coming of the King.

 

In the Advent scriptures and devotionals, I keep reading about hope. And that despite all the turmoil we see around us hope still wins because our hope is to be anchored in Christ’s having come and in his coming again. And while I believe all that to be true, this year my heart whispers, but what about all my hopes for today? For this one life you’ve given me to live today? Am I not to feel the least bit sad when the same hoped for, prayed for desires still go unfulfilled at the end of another year? Am I allowed to even voice that kind of disappointment in the presence of the King come as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes?

 

It’s not that everything in my life has gone wrong this year. I don’t want to give that impression. There have been plenty of joy spots this year. But the deepest desires remain unfulfilled.

 

Where in the Advent story of optimistic waiting and watching and hoping is there room for my still unfulfilled hopes for unanswered prayers? Does Jesus really say that because Advent contains the promise that he will return one day, that I have no business feeling sad about my unanswered prayers?

 

I don’t think so.

 

Jesus’ ancestor, the wise King Solomon, declares in Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

Can I just be brutally honest with where I am right now? Saying my hope is in Jesus’ return and therefore that should make everything else okay just won’t cut it for me this year. It’s another year of waiting for healing. Waiting for direction. Waiting for a doctor to have an idea. Waiting for release. Waiting for real hope. Waiting for human dignity to be restored. Waiting for some semblance of peace on earth. My hope has been deferred again and my heart is, well, frankly it’s sick. I love Jesus with everything within me, but waiting thru Advent with only the certain hope of his return just isn’t enough hope for me. Not this year.

 

Is there a remedy for this sick heart of mine? This sick heart that cries out for real answers to hard prayers. For fulfilled longings? This year all the talk of waiting and watching and hoping has fallen flat. I want to experience hope fulfilled.

 

Come desire of nations come.

 

 

I long to have the deepest desires of this earthbound journey met. I long to have my sharpest hungers satisfied. Could there be another hope for me this year? A different type of hope? A hope that comes not from the satisfaction of an earthly desire, or the knowledge that Jesus will return, but from the assurance that Jesus has never left me?

 

I stop dead in my tracks. Right there in those first six words from Proverbs, hope deferred makes the heart sick, the God of the universe, the God of Advent has given me permission to feel the full weight of all my deferred hopes.

 

Yes. They make me feel sick. Sick at heart.

 

And they make him sick at heart too.

 

But because he is the God of resurrection and redemption, and because he is in the business of bringing new life out of dead things, he doesn’t want me to remain stuck in the dead place of deferred hope. His promise is his name, Immanuel, the God who stays with me. And he draws me deeper into his name, deeper into his promise.

 

A new hope emerges – a hope that even in all the mess, God is still at work. Even in all the sorrow and pain, nothing is ever wasted. Not one tear. Not one more disappointing doctor visit. Not one more dead end. Nothing is ever wasted. It may not all work out good, but God is still working good thru my unanswered hopes.

 

The baby born in the manger, this Immanuel, God with us, is the very tangible reminder that I do not walk through the pain of deferred hope alone. This God with me sees the sick of my heart and promises that none of my pain is in vain, none of it is wasted when I offer it back to him, trusting that even these ashes he can transform into beauty.

 

This is not an easy offering to make. This is the hard work of offering a sacrifice of praise when I would rather utter a howl of complaint. Offering God my unanswered hopes can only be made from a posture of trust. Trust in the God whose name is Good. Trust in the God who promises to do all things well. Trust in the God who took on flesh so that he would know my pain, because his name is Love.

 

 

 

 

As Advent Draws to a Close

In one of the Advent devotionals I’m reading this year, I saw an advertisement for a Bible study published by Lifeway. The ad contained an image of a mother and babe, seated on a donkey, accompanied by her husband. Next to this image was the simple yet powerful sentence,

 

The rescue begins.

 

I haven’t been able to get these words out of my head all Advent season. The rescue begins. For that is what we await during Advent – the rescue of mankind. The rescue of all those who will look on the tiny babe born in Bethlehem and see the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the everlasting One, our Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

 

As we approach the longest night of the year, our anticipation for the coming of the Light of the world grows ever deeper. In just a few short days we will celebrate the birth of the One who burst forth into our world, heaven invading earth, to begin the rescue of mankind.

 

 

You will find my post for this week over at A Spacious Place, the blog of my friend Christie Purifoy. There you will find my reflections on these last days of Advent. Please do continue reading on Christie’s site. You will love her gift of making words come to life to express what you have always felt, but maybe just couldn’t quite articulate.

 

I also encourage you to buy one more Christmas gift this year, and treat yourself to the gift of Christie’s recently published book Roots and Sky: a Journey Home in Four Seasons. Her words are delicious, and the sentiments she expresses with her words are deeply filling. Here is a favorite passage that I dog-eared in my copy:

 

Dreams are a form that emptiness takes. They are the particular, unique shape of our own yearning. The emptiness itself is easy. We are born hungry. Hunger is the language of our infancy. Even adolescence can be summed up as a period of growing restlessness. But it takes years, a lifetime perhaps, to understand what we truly hunger for. To know the precise dimensions of that which will satisfy us.

 

…If God is my satisfaction, the end of all hunger, then why, if I think I have discovered him, do I wake on so many mornings still feeling so ravenous?

 

Happiest of Christmas wishes, and God’s sweetest blessings for 2017!

 

Come

 

I wasn’t raised in a liturgical church background. I marked time as any other Jersey girl would – by moving my fall and winter clothes out of storage when the weather turned chilly, and by returning them to their moth balls as soon as the first warm breath of spring air blew through my open windows. Summer began the day school let out, and fall began on that sad day when we traded in the freedom of long lazy afternoons for the structure of the school day. Spring arrived abruptly on Easter Sunday, for that was the day we dressed in our new wispy cotton Easter dresses, regardless if the temperature was 72 or 42. And winter was ushered in when the autumn decorations were swiftly replaced with images of the Baby Jesus and Santa Claus.

 

There was no experience of Advent or Lent in my faith upbringing. My parents faithfully made sure we girls loved God, trusted in Jesus, and were growing in faith through the Holy Spirit. We  were avid Bible readers and knew that God’s sense of time was very different from our own.

 

But we never learned to mark time using the Christian calendar.

 

Being active now in a church that organizes itself around the Christian calendar, I have found such beauty in the practice of celebrating such time-defining periods as Advent and Lent. These are seasons of waiting. Of longing. Of preparing. Of looking inward at my own need for a Savior and then, of course, at looking up and finding that need fulfilled in the God-Man, Jesus.

 

These are the seasons of hope.

 

This Advent season, the Women’s Ministry of my church has compiled an Advent Daily Devotional Guide titled Behold God’s Promises, and I was asked to prepare one of the reflections. Mine is the Christmas Eve devotional, and it is based on the daily readings for December 24: Psalm 45 & 46; Isaiah 35:1-10; Revelation 22:12-17, 21; and Luke 1:67-80.

 

What follows below is my Christmas Eve reflection from Behold God’s Promises. Perhaps this Advent season you too are yearning to slow down and prepare, to look inward, and to look up and find a loving God looking back at you with open arms. If so, I invite you to enjoy the entire Advent Daily Devotional Guide, available for download here.

 

 

Come.

 

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let the one who hears say, “Come.” Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 22:17)

 

 

On this night, of all nights, like the shepherds of old, we await with great expectation and longing the coming of our King. But we are not gazing heavenward for a star to guide us to a lonely, humble stable. Our true Advent is awaiting Jesus’ return, when He comes to us as our righteous King!

 

His throne is a throne that lasts forever and ever. From His city flows a river, which brings life to everything it touches. Where once there was a desert, pools of cool water have healed the scorched land. His water is living water and He freely gives it to all who call upon His name.

 

“Come,” says the King. “Come and walk with me. Only the redeemed of the Lord may join me here. It is I who have redeemed you out of my great love for you. Take my hand. With me there is no more sorrow or sighing; you will find only gladness and joy.”

 

Oh how we long for that coming kingdom! How we long to walk hand-in-hand with our Savior-King. And yet, for a little while longer, we must wait, expectantly longing for His return. And as we wait, we come, day by day, moment by moment, drinking from the water of life.

 

Dear King Jesus, on this last night of Advent, would You help me to know You not just as the baby in the manger, but also as my righteous King? Deepen my longing to come to You as I await your triumphant return. Amen. Come Lord Jesus.

 

 

 

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