*This is a post about Advent, but it is also a post about pain, sorrow, fear....and expectation. It is for everyone I know who is suffering right now, but it is aslo for me.
I don't believe in God.
I tell my children that He loves them, and when my friends call on me with sick children, broken marriages, and personal crisis, I tell them that He is still good.
I tell myself that one day all of the brokenness will be made right, that the oppressed will be delivered, and that every tear will be wiped from our eyes.
I tell myself this...but my heart resists.
The whole story is amazing: redemption, deliverance, and love, but on Sunday afternoon I said this to one of my priests, “Yeah, it would be awesome...if it were true.”
We have been reading Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible every day with our girls for Advent. Last night we read the story of Abraham.
Abraham and Sarah are very, very old--too old to have children.
God shows Abraham the sky and tells him to count the stars.
He then tells Abraham that his descendants will be greater in number than those stars.
He tells Abraham that his wife Sarah will have a child, but Sarah does not believe it.
Of course I have heard that part before, and usually people (i.e., Sunday School teachers) like to use that as a teaching moment about the power of God vs. Sarah’s lack of faith. “Sarah laughed in God’s face, but God proved Sarah wrong!”
Last night I saw it differently. I had deep compassion for Sarah.
She is barren and she has to suddenly rearrange her perspective to expect goodness.
I can just imagine Sarah, in her 90s, being told she would have a baby and thinking how amazing it would be...if it were true.
Sarah doesn’t change her perspective, she doesn’t even believe.
Nevertheless, God in his mercy gives her a son. I don’t see the story as an example of a power play by God, but rather God’s tender faithfulness.
My whole life I’ve hoped for the impossible--that I will laugh with my sister again, say the words, “dad” again, and hold my little baby, breathing and alive. Imagining the reality of this is beyond any trite Bible-Bookstore picture of heavenly harps and clouds that I have ever seen.
This is the epitome of hope. This is the antithesis of the deep sorrow I have known. I can’t begin to imagine it. Perhaps I don’t want to, not if I’ll be disappointed.
Most of the time I think, “Yeah, that would be amazing ... if it were true.”
Most of the time, it is very difficult for me to believe that it is.
As a child I was terrified of the night. I prayed for daily for God to take away my fear.
While the nights remained difficult for me for almost 30 years, morning always came.
Morning upon morning upon morning...more than 10,000 mornings. They never failed to come.
We have all grown accustomed to our particular night. It is where we learn to expect death and where grief has colored our breathing in and our breathing out. It is where we have lost babies, husbands, wives, and hope. It is where I daily lose my faith, and where my prayers are reduced to a broken whisper, "Oh God, let it be true."
God has not answered me with a great revival of faith, though I often ask. He has not answered my friends with healthy children or restored marriages. Nevertheless, He answers in other ways.
He answers by being good and rewarding us based on his love for us, rather than our own belief.
He answers with tenderness for the cynic, and faithfulness for the faithless.
He answers with the morning--the reminder that the night, no matter how dark or long, will pass.
Before coming to the Anglican church I didn't know much about the meaning of the word Advent. I just assumed it meant, "Christmastime."
Literally, "Advent" means: Arrival, appearance, emergence, materialization, occurrence, dawn, birth, rise, development; approach, coming.
Advent teaches us to rearrange our expectation, and to anticipate life rather than death. It causes us to hope for the arrival, materialization, and dawn of redemption.
During Advent we light a candle each Sunday.
The final candle we light represents Jesus, the light of the world.
When I light the final candle it means that there will not only be a final night, but also a never-ending dawn.
So I am able, for a time, to practice waiting.