Running along the river, we drew in lung-numbing air and breathed out weariness. "When I heard about the attacks," she huffed between strides, "I just sat on my bed and cried."
The familiar weight settles in my chest again. We talk about bombings, sick children, refugee crises, the fear permeating our neighborhoods. These and other tragedies threaten to push me further downward. Advent promises to bring light after the days get darker, but it's only November and I’m sinking. The days aren't even as dark as they'll get yet.
Last year around this time, I was entertaining visions of a nostalgic first Christmas season with my daughter. Instead, the unbearable weight of global events knocked the wind and the manufactured magic right out of me, and I felt trapped under an unbearable grief for a broken world. I felt cheated. Jesus was in the manger and the story was moving on to the Wise Men, but I wasn't ready. Where was the peace on earth? The goodwill toward men? Christmas had come, but injustice still reigned and the darkness felt tangible.
Then in despair I bowed my head.
“There is no peace on earth,” I said
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
There was a time when Advent meant nothing more to me than opening cardboard cut-outs to reveal the number of days between me and merriment. I subconsciously linked Advent with pleasure, comfort, and a cleaned-up baby Jesus. But it's a lie that Christmas is all smiles and store-bought magic.
Instead, Advent is painful. Jesus' entrance into this world came during war and xenophobia and genocide. Sound familiar? Only shortly after the child King was born, Herod killed every Jewish boy under two. The infant Christ turned refugee while a xenophobic ruler ripped babies from wombs. The first Christmas didn't happen in a world somehow safer or cleaner or kinder than the one we live in now.
That's why Jesus came. That's why Advent hurts. All the twinkling lights on earth can't pierce that darkness. It takes a Light stronger than the coming summer sun to warm human hearts. The promise of Advent is that the Light is coming. The days grow shorter, colder, and darker—but the light always comes with the change of the seasons. It's a cyclical symbol of a bigger story. The Light is coming.
This Advent, I'm embracing the hurt instead of covering it up with paper and ribbons. Let’s simplify the commercialism and the rush and instead quiet ourselves to listen and act. The light isn’t hanging on a Spruce tree or twinkling from a storefront: the Light is here and still coming, and someday He’ll wipe away every tear.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor does He sleep.
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, goodwill to men."
Originally published November 2015.