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Advent, Darkness, and the Call to Hope

Christmas is fast approaching. During December, it seems that everything is calming down and yet speeding up at the same time. Unlike most years, this year I’ve been feeling a little isolated from it all. This season of life has found me in a place where I don’t really feel like anticipating Christmas, or anything hopeful, for that matter. As this year has held many new challenges and experiences of personal growth and adjustment, I am left feeling a bit numb and filled with doubt. In seasons like this I am tempted to avoid hope. I let my heart brood and spiral down into the comfort and familiarity of self-pity. Dwelling on light seems like an uphill battle and the concept of hope seems shallow and frivolous. Ironically, we are celebrating the season of Advent in the Church. I have been a bit frustrated to be feeling this way when I’m meant to be celebrating a time of hope and light.

I recently stumbled upon a quote which made me ponder the time of Advent in a new way:

“The Advent mystery is a mystery of emptiness, of poverty, of limitation. It must be so. Otherwise it could not be a mystery of hope.” - Thomas Merton

Perhaps, being in a dark and empty time of life is ideal for Advent. When we are in a dark room, we search for the smallest amounts of light so that we can see clearly. After acknowledging that I am limited, that I am in the dark, I have consciously chosen to search for the light.

Why do we look forward to the hope of celebrating Jesus’ birth?

The sweet little babe born in a manger was the same person who would grow up to show us the love of God: to teach thousands, to heal the blind and broken, and to raise the dead into life. This is hope.

The same baby would grow up to overcome forty days in the desert, temptation, grief, anxiety and the many mundanities of life. This is hope.

This baby would grow up to be a man who would freely walk into torture and brutal death for our sake and would overcome death by coming back to life through a magnificent resurrection. This is hope.

This baby was the same Jesus who will be coming back to earth. This is hope.

This baby was the same God who has a brilliant plan for my earthly life, including these darker times, and wants me to dwell with him in heaven someday. This is my hope.

We can’t often tangibly feel this hope in our hearts, so we must choose it. Sometimes I am afraid to hope because I am afraid of being let down and experiencing pain. But that mustn’t stop us. There is a scripture that brings me much comfort in this area, for it reminds me that we can never be put to shame when we put our trust and hope in Christ:

Sirach 2:6-11 says:

“Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; and turn not aside, lest you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust in him, and your reward will not fail; you who fear the Lord, hope for good things, for everlasting joy and mercy. Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever persevered in the fear of the Lord[b] and was forsaken? Or who ever called upon him and was overlooked? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful; he forgives sins and saves in time of affliction.”

If you too are experiencing an Advent season where you are encountering your emptiness and darkness, you are in the perfect place to journey towards the light. Remember, we cannot receive new gifts if our hands are not empty. The three wise men would not have been able to follow the star and find baby Jesus if there hadn’t been darkness!

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