Darkness During Advent
For too many reasons that are either uninteresting or involved to write about, this Advent has been unusually dark for me.
The good thing about dwelling in darkness during Advent is that it works out well with the Advent trajectory – the long journey through mystery, uncertainty, and anxiety toward the hope of light.
I’ve been sort-of trudging along … uncertainty, anxiety, and worry as my fellows. They have been much more present and real to me than the promise of a flickering light I can’t really see, anyway.
My colleague said to me this morning, “You know who Nelson Mandela is most like in the Bible?” I shook my head. “Joseph” she said.”Both of them had to believe in something all evidence denied.”
That’s exactly what the light feels like to me right now – something the evidence might not support.
The movement through the darkness of Advent is necessary. It’s the journey we are supposed to travel as we wait for the birth of the Christ child. And yet, I have a tendency to get stuck in the darkness – to forget how to recognize the light.
Most of the time, I have to intentionally practice recognizing light if I want to see light. Most of the time …
Yesterday, I was burrowed into darkness and listlessly shuffling papers around on my desk, sorting things into shredding/recycling piles when I picked up an Advent calendar I handed out to my congregation two Sundays ago. I hadn’t taken one home for myself, so hadn’t been following along with the movement of the calendar through Scripture and short directives like, “show kindness” and “recognize newness.” My fingers traced the rows of circled dates searching for December 10th … my index finger drew a line underneath the short phrase that accompanied a Psalm for the 10th, “Fear not.” I shivered the slightest bit. That was appropriate direction for my current mental state. I stared at the Scripture reference for a few seconds … Psalm 46 … what was that? Shuffling more papers to find the Bible buried underneath a stack of something, I flipped to the middle. “Psalm 46” I muttered, as I began reading it under my breath.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, through the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
I had begun blinking back tears from the moment I read “refuge.” Psalm 46 is tattooed on my right forearm. At least, part of it is – the next two verses:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
Except, on my forearm it uses the Hebrew personal pronoun for city: her.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when the morning dawns.
I got that tattoo to remind myself that even in the most insurmountable darkness, God is present … within me, beside me, over me, encompassing my being. I got that tattoo because it is so easy for me to forget – God is my refuge, a very present help in trouble. Therefore I will not fear.
I had forgotten it again, yesterday. But, I did recognize that I had encountered the Light reminding me of truth.
During Advent, we light candles to remind us of light, to remember the way Christ entered human history to show us how to live in hope, peace, joy, and love. But we also light candles in faith that hope and peace and joy and love exist – that they will come, as surely as God was born in a baby, even if all evidence testifies to the contrary.