“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son …” Galatians 4:4
According to the way Christians in the church mark time, the season of Advent began on November 29. In a very real and profound sense, though, it feels
like we have been observing Advent since mid-March.
Advent, you see, is about waiting, which is something we’ve done a lot of these last nine months. Advent is about waiting for God to act. It’s about scanning the horizon, looking for a sign—any sign—that God is on the way to visit the troubled places where we live with the good news that better days, blessed days, are finally upon us. Advent is about knowing that God is coming, without knowing when God is coming—which means that Advent is also about learning how to be patient in the face of excruciating, baffling, inexplicable delay.
In a normal year, the way we observe Advent can feel like an artificial exercise in delayed gratification. Why can’t we sing Christmas carols in worship? Why can’t we open our presents yet? Why can’t we fast forward to the good stuff? The stores have been decorated for Christmas since before Thanksgiving. The radio has been playing Christmas music for a few weeks now. Why does the church insist on dragging its feet with all this dreary “Advent” talk?
That’s how it usually is. This year? Advent feels different this year—at least, for me it does.
This year, there’s nothing artificial about the exercise of waiting on what we long for, yearning for what we know will come in the yet-to-be-disclosed future. But it can’t possibly arrive soon enough to satisfy us. By this point in 2020, we know all about waiting. We know all about having to be patient. We know all about aching for what we can’t have right now and wondering how many more precious days will pass before the world is right again.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent a lot of time since March poring over the news, searching for positive trends and hopeful indicators that this scourge of a virus is starting to recede. You’ve been looking for a sign—any sign—that back-to-normal is getting closer, all the while marking time in terms of the birthday parties, graduation events, vacation travels, holiday gatherings, and so many of the other, more mundane, activities that you’ve missed because they didn’t happen. While some of us have lost more than others in 2020, all of us have lost something this year.
And we’re ready for things to change. We know, one day, they will. We hope it’s soon. But, most of all, we’re just so tired of waiting for the time to come to completion. This year, the spirit of Advent is all around us. We’ve been living it for nine months now.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light,” writes the prophet Isaiah. It’s a familiar Advent verse. We hear echoes of it in the gospel of John: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Advent doesn’t deny the reality of darkness. It does, however, insist—defiantly so, sometimes in the face of great evidence to the contrary—that the light of God’s love is stronger and more tenacious than all the darkness this world can ever possibly muster. There’s a reason, I believe, that we associate candles with Advent. When it gets dark, people of faith light candles to remind ourselves—and proclaim to the world—that it won’t stay dark forever.
And so this Advent, that’s exactly what we plan to do. We’ve already spent most of this year waiting. Now, we intend to light candles in the darkness as signs of the enduring hope we have in Jesus Christ. On the next page you’ll find information about our outdoor Advent Vespers services on December 6, 13, and 20. These events will be family-friendly, interactive, engaging, and worshipful. Each week, as part of our time together, we will light candles together. Because of the virus, we’re holding these vespers events outside—which gives us an unusual opportunity to bear a very public witness to our faith in Jesus, the light of the world.
We want to share this light with our neighbors—and this Advent, at the end of this very hard year, everyone who drives down Randolph Road on Sunday evening will be able to see our lights shining in the darkness. I hope you will join us and add your light to our hopeful witness.
May the peace of Christ be with you!