Advent is a time to wait. We wait, expectantly. We hope, even in the darkness. Especially in the darkness.
During the 400 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, the people trusted despite the hopelessness of their suffering. They couldn’t see a way out, but God saw them. His gaze penetrated the murkiness. He provided the oil needed long ago to keep the Hanukkah candles burning, the light to dispel their gloom.
Anna and Simeon waited for years (Luke 2:25-38) before their faith was blessed with sight and they could feel the baby’s soft skin. Simeon and Anna believed with “assurance of things hoped for and conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). Others in ancient times anticipated the promised Messiah their whole lives but died before the fulfillment came.
Today, many wait in the dark.
The Christmas season accentuates loss. The loved one missing from the table. The wish still ungranted. Hope that continues to be deferred.
I’ve been silent lately, for many reasons. If I claimed it’s because all my time and energy went to finish out my first semester teaching, and then the day I recorded my final grades, Steve and I took off on a long-planned road trip, that would be true. But it’d only be a small part of it.
The real reason is that, since Thanksgiving, I’ve been sad. Another friend died, much too young, much too suddenly, leaving a heart-broken husband and children. Heaven becomes more real and desirable to me each year, populated with more dear friends that, someday, I’ll be reunited with.
But that’s the future. Hopefully, many years into the future. What is the hope for today? What will help those left behind?
My friend loved Jesus with all her heart. When the veil started to lift, and her focus grew sharper by the second until she could see that beloved face in full clarity, what did she see?
In winter, bulbs continue to grow, buried deep in the cold, dark ground. We can’t see what happens under the surface. It feels like death. And then, without warning, when the time is right, flowers burst forth, in brilliant color.
The Messiah came at a time like that. The incarnation began in the dark. In silence. The God of the Universe, who spoke the world into being, implanted his divine embryo in the womb of a teenage virgin, coming to live among us and show us his heart, the father’s heart.
He didn’t arrive as a ruler demanding obedience. He came gentle and humble, loving the lowest. Angels announced his birth–in an animal stable– to shepherds, those shunned by society. The child grew to give sight to the blind, forgiveness to sinners, and belonging to the marginalized.
The birth of the baby who came to lay down his life, in exchange for ours, gives meaning to my friend’s death. Because of him, she is now living, forever, in undiluted light.
If you struggle with loss and heartache this Christmas, no trite words can help. But the one born that silent night in Bethlehem can. He understands. He suffered, separated from his father, hated by those he came to love.
Look into his eyes. Trust his heart for you, even when you can’t see it. Reach out and touch his outstretched hands.
Come to him, not because you have to. Because you want to. Because that’s where life is found.
Corrie ten Boom, one of my heroes, wrote about her fear as a child riding trains through tunnels. “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
Trust. Even in darkness. Even in silence. What do you see?
Silent night, Holy night.
Son of God, Love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.