I’m reading Silence – and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro, and the first week of reflective readings centers on questions of doubt and unmet longing. We don’t often associate doubt with the season of Christmas, but historically, that is the most appropriate way to understand the story.
This past Sunday, our pastor took as his text Isaiah 9 and was quick to remind us that Jesus arrived in a time of darkness and gloom. The Miracle of Light exploded over a landscape of despair, and I suppose Advent may be the most appropriate time to speak of our sadnesses and deep disappointments, our doubts and unmet longings. Living with life and its losses can be our greatest invitation into the longing for Advent and the coming of the Promised One Whose name is Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Okoro reminds us of the gifts our believing community gives to us when we find ourselves in our own private backyard of grief – both chronic and acute. “Sometimes when we find ourselves too burdened by the extent of our longings, too prayed out, or too exhausted with coming before God, we can look to others to bear our burdens prayerfully until we regain our own strength of spirit. A believing community shoulders hope when circumstances seem hopeless. A believing community speaks boldly into despair and longing and suggest that things do not have to remain as they are in the presence ef a holy, imaginative God.”
There is incredible tension in that place of worn out, exhausted faith where our own prayers have run out of gas, and it’s the prayers of others, which propel us forward. But it can be a beautiful place of expectation. Faith is the looking forward, the believing for new vistas of goodness. Longing and loss, darkness and gloom aren’t final chapters in God’s story: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.”
And what is to be the result of our coming to Advent with this sense of expectation – and of Advent coming to us in the full brilliance of Christ?
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog,
And set my feet upon a rock, making my steps scure.
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” Psalm 40:1-3
This Advent, may the LORD give us a new song: instead of songs of doubt, a song of faith; instead of songs of darkness, a song of Light, instead of songs of complaint, a song of gratitude; instead of songs of turmoil, a song of peace; instead of songs of self-pity, a song of praise.