“Let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no one can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forevermore.” These words end the first prayer in the Nine Lessons and Carols service and they speak to a grief and a hope that lies so close to surface for many of us at Christmas.
My dad died five years ago. This year marks half a decade without his dry humour, his ability to turn anything into a hat, and without his remarkable ability to tell a story. These past few Christmases have been hard as I have tried to balance the joy of family, the nearness of Jesus and all the celebrating with the reality that my dad will miss much of my adult life. I feel forever stuck between what was and what could be. Such is the nature of loss and grief. I feel like I have moved into a new season of tension and discomfort.
However, with all this tension and discomfort comes an awareness of the gentleness of God. He is more gentle with us than I could ever imagine and I feel this gentleness the most in the season of Advent. Every time I come to the Advent wreath I am reminded of a God who is present in our tensions and discomfort and reveals himself to us slowly so that we can behold all that He is.
As the candles are lit each week and as the light grows I am reminded of a God who affords us the courtesy of cozying up to Him. This growing light offers me time and space to balance my grief with the hope of the future. God doesn’t often descend like water racing out of a fire hose, we the unsuspecting victims of to a deluge of salvation and grace. He trickles into our hearts like the growing light of the Advent season or like the passivity of a child laid in a manger. He affords us the luxury of time and space so that we might warm to his advances of love and reconciliation. So that we might have time to find space for his love and presence in the midst of sadness and disappointment we bear.
One day I will worship with my dad on that distant shore, and I will be reunited with the many others that I have lost in this life, and we will be free and joyful in the physical presence of my Saviour. Until then I have the luxury of allowing my heart to warm to His everlasting embrace and to experience Him now in the tension and uncertainty of a heart caught in the pain of the present and the hope of the future.
And this is the great good news of the incarnation, that our future certainty seeps into our present tension and discomfort. As we come full circle to the last prayer of the Lessons and Carols, let us pray these words for one another: “May he who by his incarnation gathered into one, things earthly and heavenly, fill you with the sweetness of inward peace and goodwill.”