Darkened Hope — St. Peter's Fireside | Vancouver, B.C. 

by Sena Hughes Lauer
December 6, 2018
6 min read

Advent begins in the dark. No matter which way we cut it, it begins in the dark.

It begins in famine, death, and loneliness. It begins with a stump. A barren womb. A child born to a teenage girl out of wedlock.

Advent is not a silver lining. It is not a sweet platitude that graces greeting cards. It is hardly even the light at the end of the tunnel.

Try telling a pregnant, 14-year-old virgin at risk of the death penalty, “oh well at least you are carrying the Son of God… ?”

No, Advent begins in darkness. It begins with impossibility. Funny how God’s grand entrance can feel so godforsaken.

That’s about where the theology loses me; the questions come flooding. Where is God? Why does this have to be so hard?

I don’t know. Neither did Naomi and Ruth, nor did the people of Israel, or Elizabeth or Zechariah, or Mary or Joseph.

It makes me curious about a God that starts his narratives this way – in the dark, that is. It seems to me like if I were omniscient and omnipotent that I would probably like to start and end my stories with the happy stuff. You know, kind of like the Dr. Suess of scripture. I’d like to take the nice things and turn them into important lessons on life and let the rest follow. No discomfort or suffering here. We would all be on our hunky-dory way.

But if we thank God for nothing else this Advent, may we thank him that it’s not our story to tell. It’s not up to us to decide who gets a big role and who gets undeserved mercy; it’s certainly not up to us to control how and when and where he will move. The story of Advent reminds us that God was and is still in the darkness, the barrenness, the wasteland, the desolation.

The miracle of Advent is not that God shows up. The miracle of Advent is that God has been there the whole time. He was not any less present to Naomi and Ruth in Bethlehem than he was to a traveling young couple, soon-to-be-parents, in that same city generations later. He is no less present right here, right now, wherever you are reading this today.

See, we–or at least I– like Christmas. We like it because there is arrival and in that sense relief and resolution. The story makes sense at that point. Finally! God is here. The party can start.

And so we celebrate with joyful carols and terrible renditions of babies cooing in our fluffy mangers and foil-laced Christmas cards and lots of butter and sugar. But to paraphrase some words from a favourite author of mine, we Christmas the crap out of our Advent.

If we know anything about the story of faith, it’s that it will require waiting, longing, and sometimes wailing, wondering, and great expectation.

This is not a story of brown paper packages tied up with string. The story of faith is a long night-watch: experiencing shadows slowly shift as dawn nears. In the church, we recognize this for a whopping four weeks out of the year–probably an inappropriately short time. Advent is really the point, especially as we know as modern day Christians testify that Christ has come, has died, and has risen and we await his arrival once more. We are constantly in Advent.

If we know anything about the story of faith, it’s that it will require waiting, longing, and sometimes wailing, wondering, and great expectation.

And much like he was for the people of Israel, and Naomi and Ruth, and Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Joseph and Mary, God is present and active now, even in our waiting. He is not prepping behind the scenes, anticipating his cue so that he can finally drop by and attend to our problems and needs. Unfortunately, I think a commercialized view of the Christmas story has many of us thinking God is a fairy godmother who can come and go as he pleases. But a God who came to earth as an infant, through the messy, bloody process of human childbirth does not seem like the type of God to me who floats about with a magic wand. The God we worship does not dance around anything but dwells in the center of everything, however messy it may be.

It’s dark out there, friends. This season can be so painful and hopeless. We drown our weary hearts in tinsel, but it brings slight relief. We grieve those who we lost this year. We remember how much better things seemed once upon a time. We are helpless under financial stress. Our broken family systems haunt us. Our illness forbids us from participating in the most cheerful time of the year. Quite literally, the days are short and the light can be fleeting– especially in our city.

Don’t let people Christmas the crap out of your Advent.

Yearn. Lament. Shout if you have to. Grieve. Be quiet. Stay still.

And don’t be the one who Christmases it up for everyone else. If you are bursting with a sense of joy and delight this time of year, then you have a gift to offer.

Hold a hand. Listen. Lament on someone else’s behalf. Be a friend. Remain silent. And if you must bake, then bake cookies for someone who can use them (which, hint, is everyone).

Hope doesn’t always look like a coloured lights display. Jesus did not come with bells on. He came as a poor, vulnerable baby. He spent 33 years simply walking, eating, playing, creating, and working among. Sometimes God’s presence is so very human and fleshy, we nearly miss it. Sometimes it will look like a daughter-in-law clinging to a widowed mother-in-law; or a young shepherd boy becoming king of Israel; or a barren old woman delivering a prophet and a virgin girl giving birth to the Son of God. In other words, it looks a lot like family quirks and social faux pas.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing,” Isaiah 43:19 reads. “Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and springs in the desert.”

You might be on a bus right now or in an office. You might be in bed, or in a classroom, or in a waiting room. You might be avoiding the pile of dirty dishes or the dirty diaper. You might be in Canada or Norway or South Africa. But may this be your reminder that wherever you are and whatever you carry, God is doing a new thing. Do you not perceive it? You are not lost on him.

And so we wait. And we hope.

For Advent, St. Peter’s Fireside will be tracing the theme of Hope throughout the Book of Ruth through our sermons, poetic reflections and these blog posts. You can listen to the first sermon, Darkened Hope, here and read the first poetic reflection, Instructions for Engrafting, here. 

about the author
Sena is a member of St. Peter’s Fireside. A daily coffee drinker and avid conversationalist, Sena particularly enjoys chatting theology, politics, feminism, sports or any ensuing byproducts of the topics. She is from the U.S. and moved to Vancouver in 2016 with her husband, Graeme.

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