The Problem with Advent

Lake of Carezza, Carezza, Nova Levante, Italy by Alessandro Viaro on Unsplash

The problem with Advent is that it comes around every single year. Again. And again. And then yet again. As best we can tell, Christians have kept some version of preparation for Christ’s appearing among us–days of repentance and longing and holy stillness–since the late 400’s. Generation after generation, names and stories mostly forgotten, have fasted and prayed and lit candles and set their hope on One coming who would make the world right, who would tend to every tear, snuff out every injustice, and lift every weary heart.

But of course, there hasn’t been a single Advent in all these centuries when evil men did not stalk the innocent, when disease did not steal the young, when our heartaches over our broken relationships, broken dreams, and broken promises did not crush and maim. This Advent is no different. Sadly, by all accounts, next Advent will be the same.

And yet we press into these days with steady hands and a faith that seems almost belligerent in its audacity. We touch flame to wick, and we hum those haunting hymns. We bend in prayer, and we steel ourselves for our night-watches. We return again to this story, enacting once more the long, hope-filled narrative–not because we have certainty that this Advent (or any hour before we breathe our last) will finally make all the promises come true. We do not embrace Advent as a kind of elaborate denial, a way to play-act that the harshness or sorrow are not so bad as we’ve feared.

Just the opposite. We return to Advent again because of exactly this problem, an inescapable predicament as old as humanity. No matter how hard we try, no matter how ingenious our leaders, no matter our advancements, no matter our triumphs, no matter our very best intentions–we cannot ever, ever undo all the harm we repeatedly do to one another, all the pain we have set loose in our world.

In a dinner conversation recently with someone I love, we shared our heaviness and disappointment. There was fear of the future, regret over the past. After we finished our bowls of soup, we sat quietly, realizing that words failed. There were only tears. Tears over what we could not fix. Tears over the helplessness we must own, and tears for the grace we must cling to as our salvation.

This is the problem of Advent, and this is why we again light the candles and sing songs of hope in the long, long night. We do not need to “feel” Advent–that is not the point. Rather, we allow ourselves to be embraced by Advent’s true story. We trust the One who promises to be God with us, even amid our many searing pains. We relinquish our life into the hands of the One who promises to hold us near–and to one day undo every sorrow, mend every wound, and make the whole earth aflame with love’s fire.

15 Replies to “The Problem with Advent”

  1. Winn, thank you! You are a gift, my friend. I am amazed at your turn of phrase and how it both captures the moment and what many of us can’t truly express but feel. I especially love the final three sentences. Again, thank you.

  2. Winn, I always enjoy yor messages. When I saw the title of this one, I grew a little weary, a Problem with Advent? As I read on, I got to the meaning of what you were talking about. And I love the meaning you gleaned from what is, as you said! Some-how you always make it right! Trust God!

  3. “The hopes and fears of all the years” (especially this one) “are met in Thee tonight.” Phillip Brooks
    Thanks for this beautifully-worded Advent post which describes perfectly what we’re feeling. You have a gift for doing that–painting word pictures that speak to what so many others are thinking, feeling and experiencing. Thank you for using your gift to bless us…and so many others.

  4. With this post, you’ve done it yet again. Thanks for this beautifully textured reflection. Such immanence and transcendence in these words, to quote the theologians. And, significantly for me, these words touched down and lifted up.

    What especially moved me, and, as it turns out, what I especially needed were the two words situated precariously between “allow ourselves to be embraced by Advent’s true story” and “the One who promises to be God with us, even amid our many searing pains”: we trust.

    I trust.

    To trust…again and again…is the Advent I most need to come into my life again and again.

    Thank you, Winn.

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