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Oh How We Need Advent (This Year More Than Most)

I remember her—tan, hair freshly cut and dyed, wearing yellow sunglasses—catching a fly ball at a Royals game with her bare hands. She gave the ball to some kid, much to the dismay of the grown man sitting beside us. It was our first anniversary. Danielle, a St. Louis native, would have much preferred a Cardinals game, but we lived closer to Kansas City. 

By that Christmas, she was kissing me by the Christmas tree, head bald from chemo. 

Her suffering and death only hurt when I think about it. Pictures of her still burn my eyes with tears and shorten the breath in my lungs, six years after her homegoing. Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the burden of all this death? 

While Christ’s second advent is where I’ve learned to lay the tonnage of the burden of sacred love, stolen by death, Christ’s first advent reminds me that God also understands incarnated love stolen by death.

Christ’s first advent reminds me that God also understands incarnated love stolen by death.

Imagining the Second Advent

I catch myself daydreaming about resurrection day, Christ’s second advent. An impressionistic painting comes into focus like morning mist burned off by the breaking of dawn. 

All the dead in Christ are rising—the great, the small, the noble, the mean, the extraordinary, and the average. People I know are rising—beloved people I have yearned for all these weary years (Rev. 20:11–15).

Injustice is trod over by the crucified Carpenter-King; tears are being wiped away forever (Rev. 21:4–5). All is being put to right and is finally as God intended it, long ago, when he saw what his hands had crafted and appraised it as good (Gen. 1).

What Advent Is

But when I snap back to the painful present, I need something to hang on to for dear life. That’s what Advent is. Advent is the rusty nail holding us together until resurrection day. 

Advent is the rusty nail holding us together until resurrection day.

Advent is the hard-won faith Christ gave us the hour he first cultivated us into good soil; the hour we first believed that the light of the world still shines amid all this desperate darkness. When we celebrate Advent, we are daring to taste and see that God is good in the midst of present desolation (Ps. 34:8).

And Then He . . . Left

The prophets of old looked far into the future and saw the Son of God’s incarnation. “God with us” (Matt. 1:23) is a supernova in the darkness—darkness that had long been closing its claws around humanity’s throat. 

But Jesus! Praise his name! Jesus Christ—born of the virgin Mary, crucified, dead, and buried—took up again the very life he laid down (John 10:18) and rose from his cold grave, defeating death after extinguishing his own holy life. 

And then he . . . left. 

That may not be how pastors would put it, but it’s how many of our church members presently feel. And then he left, they sigh, sensing that God has abandoned them in all this miserable darkness.

We Need Advent

We pastors will say, of course, that the crucified Carpenter-King has not abandoned his people. Theologically this is true. But the vocation of all those in the fellowship of his suffering is to lead cruciform lives in thought and deed. And this entails walking, limping, and crawling on Christ’s dusty, narrow road—enduring, by faith, to the end. 

It’s not enough to merely meet people with theologically sound intellectual exercises. No, you must meet people in the battlefield of their emotions. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). This is love. And this is why Advent matters, and matters more this year than most. 

What will you hand your world-weary and bedraggled siblings in Christ if not the hope of Advent?

What will you hand your world-weary and bedraggled siblings in Christ if not the hope of Advent?

Advent helps the saints to persevere until he who began a good work in us brings it to fruition (Phil. 1:6). It reminds us that prophets of old looked longingly into the future for the hope of Christ’s coming (1 Pet. 1:10–12). Their hope is the same hope we look back on. And like them, we also look to the future, awaiting his return. 

For in the here and now we are sojourners in the valley of the shadow of death, plodding between the two advents of our God and King. 

Take Heart

Perhaps you have prayed, in the quiet hours of the night, O Lord, how much sadness can be poured into one fragile human vessel, composed of little more than dust, before she irreparably shatters?

Warm waves of resurrection will at long last thaw out and restore your tattered heart. So take heart, beloved. Resurrection day approaches. 

Until then, though, we need Advent.

Editors’ note: 

For E. M. Welcher, finding hope from carnage culminated in Advent: a thread in the night—a series of daily poetic reflections for the season of Advent. He hopes these poems will help you discover possibilities blooming from scorched-earth places, this Christmas and beyond.

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