Advent has always been described to me as a time of waiting for the coming of the Christ child, and throughout my childhood, I accepted that information and didn’t waste too much brain space on it. Even when I did consider the implications of Advent, it always seemed so ceremonial and almost archaic to me, a beautiful ceremony without an abundance of practical application. The birth of Christ had already happened in time and space, in history, and while I understood the need and desire to celebrate that fact, I didn’t really understand why we still insisted on waiting. The light of the world has come. What are we waiting for in the Advent season specifically? Is it just a reminder? A sacrament like the Eucharist that mysteriously points back to the crucified Christ and forward to the renewal of all things? Maybe. I certainly don’t pretend to be an expert, but this year, Advent has meant something else to me.
I got in an argument with a friend of mine a couple of days ago, right in the middle of the Advent season. It was a small thing, but there was hurt on both sides, and that one simple disagreement sent me reeling. I always feel relational damage at the core of my being, especially when the damage is my fault, and for some reason, the tiny gulf that it created felt impossible to cross. I wanted to build a bridge, or better yet, pretend the gulf had never happened and everything could be as it was before, but I felt guilty and weak and my usual perfectionist veneer had sprung a leak. There was a chink in my armor and I felt like I was bleeding security and identity, one drop at a time.
It turned out to be a week for conflict. One of my closest friends found herself in her boss’ line of fire for no discernible reason and she came home shaken and scared and unsure how to get up the next day and face it all again. Another close friend found herself at odds with her roommates, and as the situation grew more and more toxic, she brought her stress and sorrow to her friends and we mourned with her. The relational fractures may have been small, but they were fractures nonetheless, and we all felt, by turns, the breaking of the world around us in hurtful, tangible ways. By the time the third conflict surfaced in our small group of friends, I became suspicious that God might be trying to get my attention and it was high time I listened.
The feeling of loss, the gap between what I want to be and what I am, the heart-stopping struggle of loving people and being loved by them in return outside the gates of Eden, has given me the unexpected gift of returning to Advent.Carly Marlys
Perhaps it’s my inner “Enneagram 1 idealist” springing to life, but I never feel the brokenness of the world more completely than when a relationship starts to fray at the edges, whether it is misalignment with my parents, a disagreement between friends, or the disapproval of someone I look up to. I never feel the need for hope and healing more than when I am living in the gulf between what I wish could be and what actually exists in this strained and shattered world of people who sin and misunderstand and grieve. Not every argument can be fixed in the moment. Not every mistake can be mended with frantically applied tape and glue. Sin and interpersonal struggle often force me to wait for God in the broken and voided places of the world. The feeling of loss, the gap between what I want to be and what I am, the heart-stopping struggle of loving people and being loved by them in return outside the gates of Eden, has given me the unexpected gift of returning to Advent.
This year, Advent has been a time of waiting for the world to be made right. And yes, that does mean hearkening back to the way that the Israelites waited for the arrival of the Messiah, but I think there is more. We are waiting for the sharp edges and frayed nerves and hurt feelings that surround us to be healed. The realization that something is very wrong with our world and ourselves—that we stumble together through the darkness, waiting for a great light and not knowing when it will come—is the struggle of Advent.
The glory of Advent is that it’s only a few weeks long. For the people of God, the wait does end. The promise of the coming savior is that the wrongness I feel, the brokenness of my friendships, the mistakes that I make, are not the end of the story. I don’t need to convince anyone that this created world is full of conflict and struggle and hurt feelings and rough words. I may try to forget that fact, but I know it to be true. This year, I have been forced to remember that Jesus, our Messiah, came because this is not how it is supposed to be. Wiping away every tear from every eye also means mending what is broken, our imperfect and stumbling love for each other, our self-condemnation, our long and unforgiving memories.
As Christmas comes, as the waiting ends, conflict and guilt and the need to constantly heal and be healed will not just disappear, but this time of waiting, this time of feeling the fallenness of the world will not be wasted, because it does point to a time when sin has no more power to pull us apart from each other. May that day come quickly, and until then, we wait, for the God of peace and renewal to meet us at the end of Advent, pull us into his embrace, and heal what we have broken.