Can it please just be January?
It does indeed seem like the Christmas season is designed to be exactly what the bereaved parent doesn't need. Nonstop talk of miracles, babies, and children when your arms are empty and your miracle didn't happen. Societal pressure to be happy when your heart is broken.
But...what if this season is exactly what you and I need?
It can be, but we have to go back to the first sentence of this post, because in spite of what the advertisers would have you believe, the Christmas season did not begin after Thanksgiving.
But Advent is much more than just a countdown to Christmas, and that "much more" has become a pathway to peace for me in recent years. Let me share it with you.
The word "advent" is from the Latin adventus, or "coming." It is meant to be a time of preparation, similar to the way Lent is for Easter, looking forward to the celebration of Jesus' first coming and his eventual return. Within that time of preparation are three keys that we must grasp to plumb the depths of this special season.
Not yet. The first key to advent is that it is looking forward to the celebration of Christmas, but it isn't there yet. Instead, it is a time of identifying with the longing of Israel for their promised Messiah, of yearning for deliverance from oppression and suffering and injustice in a sin-scarred world. It is not time yet to sing "Joy to the World," but "O Come, O Come, Immanuel."
That kind of longing is something I can truly identify with. It is the agonized cry that came from the depths of my soul when I found out my daughter Naomi had died in my second trimester, and the other three babies who I lost in my first. It is what I have cried every time I have met a newly bereaved mother. It is what I have cried when we have lost dear friends and relatives to death. It is the longing for Heaven. How long, O Lord? I cry. And his answer comes, in a whisper, Not yet, child.
Someday. Advent is also an expression of faith that even in the suffering, God is good. This is what the people of Israel clung to in all of the centuries of exile, or oppression, or being led by evil kings. God keeps his promises. He is too good and loving to leave the world in the condition that it is in. Jesus came to take care of the problem of sin, and when he returns he will set up his kingdom where righteousness will reign. We can know with confidence that, in the end, God's will is good and is going to prevail. Someday.
Now. Advent is, ultimately, an expression of hope. Yes, some of that is hope for suffering and oppression to end with the coming of the Messiah. But if our hope is focused on our circumstances changing for the better, and staying that way, then we will eventually be disappointed, for Jesus has made it clear that "in this world you will have tribulation." We also end up disappointed because what God has in mind may be (often is!) drastically different than what we want to happen.
That is what happened after Jesus' first coming. He was not the conquering, military Messiah that most of the people expected. He did not change their political situation, and in their disappointment, they were blinded to the freedom that he did bring, from sin and fear and death. No, our ultimate hope has to be placed, not in a better "someday", but in the character and goodness of God. When we observe Advent, we are saying in the darkness that God is better, that he is worth clinging to with all that we have, even if our situation does not change.
This is the path to peace in the holidays that Advent now brings to my heart. I know that Christmas is not yet, and neither is our deliverance from the effects of sin in this world. Because half of my family is in Heaven, I can relate to the anguished cries of the children of Israel over the centuries of waiting. When I light candles, whether my advent wreath or other random candles around my home, it reminds me of our longing to have light invade our world because it is so dark. And it reassures me that it is okay to feel more solemn than joyful right now, while we live in the reality of the not yet.
I know that Christmas is someday. It is coming. The squares on the Advent calendar remind me that God kept his promise over 2000 years ago. He is good. He is faithful. He is love. Even when losing my babies undermined my faith and threatened everything I had ever believed in, He remained true to his own character. He doesn't change. And just as he kept his promise in the first coming, he will keep his promise to return. I will see my children, but more than that, I will see him, face to face. Someday.
I know that I can experience the hope of Christmas now. Losing four of the babies I carried in my womb made me realize that nothing on this earth is certain or under my control. But rather than letting that make me fearful and insecure, I am learning (finally!) to trust in the only one who is certain and in control. That is God himself. The hope of Christmas turned out to be not a solution, but a Savior, a person - God in the flesh, "God with us". And in the Advent season, I want to be deliberate in choosing songs to listen to and Scriptures to meditate on that reflect the wonder of that truth, setting my focus on him above the frenzy of the world. Now.
Living like this in the season of Advent gradually prepares my heart for Christmas so that when it comes, I can better embrace the joy and love and peace that the birth of Jesus brings. Not because I'm ignoring the pain in my spirit, but because that pain has reminded me of why Christmas was necessary, and why we need an annual reminder of the moment when light invaded the darkness, when God showed Himself faithful, and when he took residence with us. Because in our not yet, and our someday, and our now, we need a Savior.
And preparing our hearts to meet him is what Advent is all about.