The darkness is seeping in on all sides with the advent of Advent. Dawn is reluctant and dusk is always ready, while somewhere in between day makes a brief appearance. Sweaters and scarves are pulled close, flannel sheets give way to fleece, the kettle purrs all day long on the woodstove – each trying to chase the chill. The deepening night that hints at gloom and the cold that hunches our shoulders tight both set the stage for the longing, the yearning, the waiting of Advent.
Advent, which means “coming”, is about waiting expectantly for an arrival. We light our candles and try not to make it rote, knowing that the watching and waiting of Advent culminates in the arrival of God coming to us. God comes, not with the privileges of royalty, but by the very passage that we all arrived on this earth, that messy and beautiful process called birth. God who, as Ann Voskamp writes “…carved the edges of the cosmos curved into a fetal ball in the dark” and became “tethered to the uterine wall of a virgin”. God, who could have arrived with shock and awe, instead asks the permission of a young girl to be God’s mother and from the get-go shows a way that goes low rather than strives for high.
We can only view this arrival through hindsight and it can be easy to unwittingly sanitize and romanticize it with our candles and our crèches. But imagine being Mary and needing to tell her fiancé and her parents about being impregnated. Imagine being Mary’s mother and wanting to believe your daughter but not wanting to be taken either. Imagine being God and watching that baby form in the dark vulnerability and precariousness of a young girl’s womb. There would have been a lot of unknown, a lot of waiting, a lot of darkness. This unknown and dark waiting with unfulfilled longing more closely captures the waiting of Advent, suggests my spiritual director.
Those dark and raw places in our own lives – the disappointments, the unexpected detours, the “this did not turn out how I expected” dilemmas – this waiting place in the dark is the wait of Advent. We want to believe, to know, that though life is hard and harried, God is still good but doubt niggles and unsettles. Like Susan in Narnia, we want to be assured that Aslan is safe and Mr. Beaver’s response is that “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Can I let go of my need to be safe and free fall into trust of a good God? Can I trust as I’m in my dark place of unresolved waiting?
“Not everyone can wait; neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Rather than shoring up my doubts and minimizing my yearnings, maybe I need to let them undo me and take me out into the deep. Could the wait in Advent invite me to truly wait? To wait with expectance and acceptance but not with expectations? If deepening dusk seems to be the story of my life, can I light my candle of trust and turn to face shadow rather than scrambling frantically for the light switch of certainty?
I wish I could promise a certain kind of arrival, but I can only rest on the Arrival, the vernix coated Arrival. Our pastor has been exploring the theme of promise, and he pointed out that while God will always keep a promise, the way that a promise is kept is often surprising and unexpected. I don’t think this means that God is a trickster but that in some way God submits to our choices and to the brokenness of our spinning planet. And when the waiting involves something that we in no way chose and that God in no way orchestrated, God waits in the dark with us. I don’t think God is duped or caught off guard or has a need to control. Can I trust that kind of God? That kind of freedom? Can I wait? Wait in the dark? Can I be ok with good but not necessarily safe?
Let’s keep lighting our candles and watch and wait as Advent proceeds into the gathering darkness. As a friend said recently, the stars are only visible in the dark.