the ancient, autumnal interval of darkness and foreboding with its achy uncertainty blanketing landscapes both inner and outer. This [type of] Advent offers room for doubt and struggle. It grants permission to rest in — rather than to resolve — the tensions and paradoxes, the sometimes maddening contradictions that shape the life of discipleship.As the days continue to get shorter and the nights longer, it is easy to slip into the lonely places in our minds and hearts, where we find ourselves listening to the voices that tell us stories about the worst parts of ourselves and our world. This is far from a joyous place. At best, we might find ourselves in a contemplative state of melancholy, and at worst, a state of fear, anxiety, and despair.
I'm not urging anyone to depress themselves or poke at emotional bruises, of course. But I am willing to agree with Debra that the dark days of Advent give us permission to recognize the darkness in our own lives, without feeling any shame or guilt. Especially in the midst of a world that, at this point in December, has already worked itself into a frenzy of holiday cheer, Advent gives us permission to linger with the darkness, especially when we are dealing with struggles that keep us from embracing the pervasive encouragement to be merry, jolly, and filled with the Christmas spirit.
Because if you look at our Isaiah text from last Sunday, you'll realize that God's good news comes most readily to people who have suffered. God's light shines most brightly in the land of deep darkness, to paraphrase another famous passage from Isaiah. If you look through the Old Testament, and especially through the words of the prophets, you will find that
The God spoken of in these ancient texts is saving a people and redeeming all of creation. In this work we sense, with Flannery O’Connor, that “grace must wound before it heals.”In John the Baptist's call for repentance and in Isaiah's charge to comfort God's people, we find this same sentiment: that God's word of grace in Christ Jesus does not come to remind us that we are joyful, secure, and comfortable, but to bring joy, security, and comfort to those exact places in our lives where those things are absent.
Martin Luther believed that true faith could only come from a despairing soul, one that had seen the dark and then received the light. Perhaps this is what Advent is all about.