Hope & Healing in Advent
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” Andy Williams croons, his voice richer and fruitier than the filling of the multitude of mince pies we’re all rapidly consuming. The lights are going up and the freshly decorated trees are appearing in people’s windows and on our social media feeds. It’s a time to plan and prepare for feasting and celebration, and also an attempt to push back the encroaching gloom as we head towards the shortest day of the year. For too many of us though, the mournful grief of O Come Emmanuel expresses the mood of the season far more eloquently than does Andy Williams:
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Such a sentiment might not have us decking the halls, but it’s certainly more honest. To those in pain, this time of year can feel like being the only sober person at a party full of tipsy revellers. You’re sat on your own in a corner, sipping water, while everyone else congas past you, laughing and honking into party blowers. I don’t claim many certainties when it comes to faith but I do know this: if Jesus attended a party in December he’d eschew the conga and sit at the sad table instead. Not because Jesus doesn’t delight in our joy – he emphatically does – but because He was born into the world to sit with people in the shadows and be beside them in their grief. It is these people – the broken - who Jesus was born to be broken for.
There’s something about Advent which casts long shadows
Maybe it’s all the lights that people put up to pretend that the darkness isn’t there; a headache inducing over-exaggeration of merriment which feels offensive when you’re feeling anything but cheerful.
The reasons for being broken are legion. Are you going through a painful break-up? Is this your first Christmas alone after a bereavement? Have you lost someone close to you? Are you eaten up with financial worry and stress? Have you lost all hope? Then, despite all outward appearances, this season is ours. Advent beckons us into the gloaming and asks us to sit tight, for hope is on its way. He who was born in the shadowy stall of a stable sees you when the world does not and cannot, for its illumination is as synthetic as the plastic LED bulbs that are strung everywhere we look. The broken know that true illumination is only to be found with the one who was born to light up the world.
What does it look like to observe Advent, to we who are broken?
On a dreary and particularly miserable day, I manage to haul myself to a local church that I’ve never been to before for weekday morning mass. I’m given no order of service, for this is a church where everyone knows the words already and nobody new ever turns up. The priest and the deacon do not recognise my call to priestly ministry, but they recognise my humanity; stripped bare and exposed to the cold air like a tooth with a cracked filling, and at this Advent moment, that’s enough for me. I just want to be seen and welcomed as a fellow child of God.
The priest breaks the bread and holds it aloft for us to see. As one, we say, “I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
I involuntarily caress the deep scar I have on my finger, the impressive result of a brief and decisive disagreement with a Ninja blender, back in the summer. It has healed; the torn tissues mended like God knit me together in my mother’s womb. Soul healing is more complex and right now I feel so broken that I doubt it’s even possible. But I take the bread and I wait to be healed, because waiting is what Advent is for.
Thoughts whirl: relationships, broken. Future, broken. Sense of self, broken. Dreams, broken. But when all is said and done, and all the brokenness is swept up like much dust and forgotten pieces, in the yawning wake that is left there will still be just me and God. I will still be broken, and He will still be broken for me. Sit tight, dear broken friends. He is coming.