Another year has passed since the last time I tried to sum up the whole ethos of Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, and the promise of a new year in one brief reflection. I wrote last year’s effort just after election day. If you had asked me then to paint a picture of how the year would go, I don’t believe I could have come up with something that would depict the way things actually unfolded; I’m not that creative! We have seen chaos and anger, fear and hatred, violence and bigotry. Of course, we have also seen beauty and prophetic truth-telling, generosity in the face of natural disasters, and a rising force of the kind of courage that stands firm in its demands for justice and righteousness for all people. It has been quite a year, that’s for sure.
This is the time of year when we all hunker down. Fireplaces come to life, and we all turn a bit more inward as the weather and light conditions limit our outdoor time. I’m always glad that we live in the northern region of the Northern Hemisphere at this time, because the natural conditions of our world mirror so closely the movements and mood of the liturgical year. We approach the season of Advent, in which we acknowledge the shadows by lighting candles while we wait for the birth of the Christ child, whom we in the Church see as our source of divine Light.
I have always felt like a child of both the light and darkness; I am a deeply hopeful realist, rejoicing in sunshine even as I find a certain comfort in the shadows. While we celebrate Thanksgiving and move into Advent, it’s good to know hope in the darkness if possible. Lucky for us all, poets and preachers and writers seem to be very good at putting these thoughts very beautifully, so I thought I’d share some of their work here.
“Even when light fades and darkness falls–as it does every single day, in every single life–God does not turn the world over to some other deity…Here is the testimony of faith; darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, “Learning to Walk in the Dark”)
“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” Anne Lamott
“Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.” Rabindranath Tagore (Bengali poet, essayist, Nobel laureate)
In our congregation, there has been a pattern emerging that strengthens my hope: when frightening things happen and fear rises in our throats, we gather to light candles and sit together in prayer. (Sometimes we do so in our peaceful sanctuary, and sometimes virtually, from our own homes.) Whether we all believe the exact same way doesn’t matter; it is our common humanity that unites us. The flickering light from the candles and the solace of shared courage and steadfastness brings a sense of peace and possibility, strengthening us to return to the hard work of making the world a kinder, more just, and more loving place even in the face of tremendous obstacles. If you’re someone who would like to know when these things happen, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll make sure you know what we’re up to.
And soon … Advent. This is what Advent is about: a prophetic voice proclaiming the radical vision of a peaceable kingdom, a young woman who has the courage to say yes to God and births the embodiment of love, a light that shines in the darkness, and a people who dare to trust that the power of love is enough to overcome the love of power.
Within our deepest night, God kindles the flame that never dies away. In the church, through our worship and our work, we celebrate that flame, both its warmth and its light. No, it’s nothing new, but we all need to be reminded again and again of the power of that love, and that light. Won’t you join us?
In hope and trust,