Nearly New Year

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Christian calendar, and I am feeling like a New Year might be just the thing we need right now.

I do not have any realistic expectations that changing a year or changing a season will smoothly lift the struggles, will do away with the sickness, or will even feel markedly different in any way than today. Tomorrow will seem the same.

The morning will be cold.

The sunlight will feel beautiful in it’s juxtaposition.

We will still miss the rain.

Three lines – most days can be listed like this, and in just three lines I can gauge my own feelings about the day. What do those three lines say? More negative than positive – more wishing for change or being unsatisfied with the reality at hand. The days, the weeks, the months, the years – often have this same aspect: my own version of a compliment sandwich – sadly inverted.

I feel a little like Eeyore writing this post – “It won’t work, it will just be the same….”

This is why Advent is my favorite season. The Eeyore that is my self needs space to live into a fierce waiting that can’t see beyond a candle lit in the dark. That waits with hope, and sits in the silence -in the sadness – of crisp and short wintering days. A hope that seems to whisper that it’s okay to want more than just this moment – it’s okay to long for a creation that doesn’t exist – to want to see through the brokenness. And it’s okay that in my own brokenness I sometimes completely miss the beauty of the world. Advent gives me time to remember.

Reading through the lectionary passages for this Sunday , it seems I’m not alone in my inverted “compliment” sandwich. Isaiah 64 begins with “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” and ends with a plea that the people of God not be forgotten. Psalm 80 cries out that the Shepherd of the world listen, calls: “Restore Us”, “Save us”. Corinthians (Paul’s compliment in my evening reading of the text) reminds the people to have faith, to give thanks, and to be confident in the strength and grace of the Lord, before Mark swoops back in with a promise that ‘The Son of Man is coming’ – but the way he described to be coming – with the shaking of mountains and rending of the stars from the sky – would strike fear in even the most stoic.

This is the sort of hope we need in the darkness – hope that doesn’t promise immediate relief and an end to the daily struggle of life – but instead, a hope that says: “This is hard, and it will get harder and scarier before it gets better, but it is worth it. You are loved, and you are not alone – keep your head up and watch those stars fall.” This kind of hope helps the cynical and sad Eeyore me see that someone is not just trying to smooth over the rough spots or point out a silver lining. This kind of hope heals the world because it recognizes the wounded and broken before it reveals the beauty – it opens our eyes, and promises grace and love regardless of the hurts.

I decided to get a head start in some of my Advent reading tonight – with the lectionary and then with a new little book I picked up. The final lines of the first chapter – a chapter titled Annunciation – sparked all the feelings of Advent and especially Advent in a year like this year.

“May you receive the light of divine annunciation in the flames of your best-laid plans.”

Honest Advent, Scott Erickson

The metaphorical and symbolic flames that this year of California fires and global pandemic have fed have eaten up any and all best-laid plans for all of us. However, juxtaposing those flames to the light of divine annunciation is a great way to start this Advent season – a reminder that those aren’t the only kinds of flames – that there is a light in the darkness, that there is a salvation into which we live because of God’s promises and the fulfillment of those promises in the life and death of Jesus. A reminder that we are adding our voices to those voices from the past – waiting for the heavens to come down, crying out for restoration and salvation. We do this though, with hope in a savior that was already born, who already died. We cry out as those before us were unable – we cry out knowing that grace has been extended before we knew to cry out for it. That is the kind of hope and waiting for which I’m willing to light a candle, for which I’m willing to burn a flame because I know that there are tidings of comfort and joy to be had – even when it’s cold.