Advent is about waiting for the God who comes. There is no more central conviction to the Christian faith that we worship and follow a God who has come, who continues to come, and who will come. At the same time, there is probably also no more central experience to a life of following Christ in the in-between time—the time between his first and second Advents—than waiting. Christ has come. Christ is coming. But still, we wait.
I have a friend who is waiting this Advent season. My friend is the same age as me, he has a child roughly the same age as mine. We went to school together, we played hockey together. As is so often the case, our lives went in different directions after high school and we lost track of each other. I became reacquainted with my friend and his story for less than ideal reasons.
My friend has been battling cancer for the last year or so. He’s been writing an online journal about his journey and I’ve been following it (and praying for him) from a distance. There are times when it is inspiring to read about how he is dealing with and processing his battle, but more often it makes me sad and angry. He is fighting like hell, but the results aren’t always positive. I read his latest entry this morning and it brought tears to my eyes. He is in pain. He is feeling hopeless, afraid, angry, uncertain, and a whole host of other emotions that I cannot even begin to fathom.
My friend knows about waiting. His life is characterized by much more waiting than he would like—for the next batch of results, for the next procedure, for the next appointment, for a pain-free night, for good news, for healing, for freedom, for a new start…
For the last three years, part of my Advent routine has included going through an Advent Reader put together by the faculty and staff at Regent College. Today, only a few minutes after reading my friend’s story, I read today’s entry, written by Uli Chi, in the The Cradle and the Crown:
Darkness. We wait for the Promised One in darkness. And we wait not in the beautiful darkness of a moonless night, but in the ugly darkness of a good creation dissolved into chaos. Isaiah saw it as the setting for this prophetic oracle concerning the Promised One: “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness” (Is 8:21-22).
Darkness seems incompatible with our desire to make the advent season a time of anticipation and joy for family and friends. Yet this very season of anticipated joys often becomes, for many, a season of darkness—of keenly felt suffering and hopelessness. Despite our inclination to whitewash such inconvenient realities, the prophet will have none of it. Instead, the darkness is fully acknowledged and named.
Unfortunately, my friend knows a good deal about the ugliness and darkness of our fallen world. He knows more than he would ever have wanted to know about ugly diseases that invade and destabilize and destroy. He knows about the darkness of helplessness and confusion and chaos. He knows about the darkness of lost opportunities and the potential of shortened horizons. Darkness is where he lives.
This morning’s entry from my Advent reader ends like this:
But darkness does not have the final word. Instead, it becomes the divinely chosen context for the revelation of the Promised One who is to come: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light…”
This is the hope of Advent that we rehearse again and again, year after year. Darkness—whether it is the darkness of cancer, divorce, mental illness, bankruptcy, hopelessness, doubt, or any of the other dark things that linger on in our hope-starved world—cannot have the final word.
It just can’t.
Not for my friend. Not for any of us walking in this land of darkness; not for any of us so well-acquainted with the shadow of death. We all need the light to dawn.
We are all waiting.