The season of Advent begins this week. That’s the four weeks before Christmas that many churches observe as a time of anticipation and preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. It’s often seen as a time of reflection, a time of stillness and peace, a time of shadows and darkness into which breaks the Light of the World on Christmas.
Or. It’s a hectic time of shopping, concerts, parties, baking, wrapping, decorating and Hallmark movies and the shadows and darkness have been lit up like a Christmas tree - literally - since November 12.
Well, it’s not “or” at all, is it? It’s “and.” The reality for most people is that Advent will be a time for all those things. And more.
Some will also struggle with grief and mental health in a season that seems to demand as much as it offers. It can be a time, not of peace, but loneliness, not a time of busy-ness, but of pressure and anxiety.
A very long time ago, the prophet Isaiah said that “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined” (Is. 9:2). For Christians, Isaiah is an important part of the Christmas story. He foretells the coming of Jesus, the light that lightens our darkness. He has more to say about Jesus and also about another character in the Christmas story: John the Baptist, the voice calling “in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” (Is. 40:3).
As an adult, John will call people to repentance and to be ready for the messiah, but he’s part of the Christmas story, too. The gospel of Luke tells that John’s mother Elizabeth is a cousin of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke writes that, before going to Mary, the angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, John’s father, to tell him that they would have a son who would be very important - he would call people back to God and to be ready for Jesus. Since Zechariah and Elizabeth were elderly and unable to have children, he was more than a little surprised. Amazed even. Sound familiar?
There’s more to that story, but that’s just my point: there’s more to the story. We might want to jump to that wondrous tableau so beautifully represented in the creche: the baby in the manger, all the other characters there, the star lighting things just right. But there’s more to the journey there. And it’s not all darkness.
Each week, we light a candle to light the way: lights for hope, peace, joy and love. Lights that remind us that the light of Jesus is already here, alive in us, and we can live it each day, not just in anticipation of the one day each year we might celebrate the coming of the light.
They’re lights that remind us that there’s more to the story. There’s the hope of Elizabeth and Zechariah, patiently waiting (Luke 1:5-25). The peace offered by angels to the shepherds, the first to hear the news of Jesus birth (Luke 2:8-20). The joy of Mary, singing a song of celebration and praise to God when she visits with Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-55). The love of God come to earth in Jesus (Luke 2:7).
They’re lights that remind us there’s more to our story, too. They’re lights that guide our journey, through anxieties and peace, through hectic preparations and moments of rest, through joy and grief. Lights to remind us to to make the time to engage our whole story.