Click here for this year’s Advent Prayer Guide.
The light fades earlier and earlier this time of year and darkness falls upon us. Darkness can easily be associated with evil in antithesis to light, but in the beginning it was not so. In the beginning, God created the heavens in the earth and separated the light from the darkness and said it was good. Total darkness is not good. Only darkness is not good. But darkness followed by light followed by darkness is good. God said so, in the beginning.
The fact that there is more darkness this time of the year is also good. God created it this way. It is good. On the fourth day God made two lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. He also made stars to be co-regents of the nighttime sky. Thus Night is never totally dark. We are not meant to dwell in total darkness. Even in the deepest night there are lesser lights ruling over it reminding us of the greater light to come. When God placed these greater and lesser (and even lesser) lights in the sky he said it was for “signs and for seasons.” This means we are to learn from the darkness; it is a sign for us. This means that the changing seasons are also good. This dark part of the year is the way God made things. It is good. We are to meditate on what this means.
It’s hard for us modern people to think about the meaning of darkness because we never really have to be in it. Our world is always lit. Darkness is rather foreign to us. But if we think about the world without modern amenities, the darkness is a natural time to rest. Without light we cannot work. We can think. We can pray. We can talk. We cannot work. Darkness implies the need for rest. Darkness also implies the need for quiet. It gets quiet at night. You can become aware of this if you are out in the woods just before dawn, especially in the late fall or winter when the bugs are no longer active. It’s quiet. Deafeningly so. And then just before dawn, when the light begins to grow in the sky, noises start happening. Birds start chirping. Squirrels start messing about. The noises are distracting, but the night is quiet. Quiet for meditation and prayer. This is how Jesus spent his last night before the cross. And he implored his disciples to join him, though they became overwhelmed with sorrow.
Watch and pray. This is the theme of Advent. Advent is not preparation or prelude for the babe born on Christmas morn. Advent is a watchful expectation for the King to return and dispel darkness and usher in his kingdom of light. We inhabit the darkness. We watch and pray in the darkness. And we know that after darkness, the light will come.
Many of us have had much to mourn this year. Many have experienced pain and loss. Many suffer under the weight of depression and anxiety. Many endure profound sadness due to unrealized dreams and unanswered prayers. Many have seen the lives of loved ones shattered by oppression and violence. We should mourn these things. Part of mourning is leaning into the reality of death and the brokenness of this world we live in: that things are not the way they are supposed to be. Advent is a season to cry out to God to come and deliver us from our pain; our sadness; from sin. The prayer of Advent is, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
The word Advent is from the Latin word advenire, which means “to come to.” Advent is about the various comings of Jesus. He came 2,000 years ago as God incarnate of the Virgin Mary. He will come again in glory to set up his everlasting kingdom over the new heavens and the new earth. But there is also a very real sense in which Jesus comes to us today, in the in-between-time. Jesus shows up every Sunday when we worship him. Jesus also shows up to intervene in various ways in our lives when we call out to him. So when we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus,” we are not asking for the end to come. We are crying out for him to show up now and deliver us in our present situation.
As we enter into Christ’s life, we enter into the life of God’s people who have been trained through the millennia to hope and pray for peace, security, justice, and welfare (Psalm 122). Have we expected too little? Have our hopes been dulled by our sorrow? Great David’s greater Son is coming! Can we set our hopes to the whetstone of the Word, renew our sharp edges, and hope for something preposterous?
Will you join me in entering into the darkness this Advent season? To watch and pray? To rest? To simplify? To be still and quiet? To mourn? To see the moon and stars and believe that dawn is coming? To cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus?”
May you have a blessed Advent season.
For more Advent reflections, click here.
Featured image: St. Francis in Meditation by Francisco de Zurbarán. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.