Advent is my favorite season of the Church year. It’s a season for dreamers and hope-ers, a season for prophets and poets. They say it’s a season of waiting…but it’s also a season for truth-telling and proclaiming of the already but not yet. It’s for trail-breaking and newness making.
The commonly presented theme for the first week of Advent is hope. It seems to me that hope implies something isn’t what we want it to be, that the reality of the moment doesn’t match our belief about the future. Here’s where I have seen the tension of hope in action this first week of Advent.
Yesterday I had yet another conversation that started like this: “I tried the church, but I don’t ever want to experience that pain again. If I am going to follow Jesus, I will have to stay away from organized church.”
I empathize with the tears flowing down the face of the one who said those words. I’ve walked similar paths of frustration, anger, and confusion. I also know what it’s like to stand on the other side of that ocean of disorientation; to have arrived at a new place unimaginable to me while I was trapped in an undercurrent of hurt. I have experienced life-altering pain at the hands of those who call themselves the church, and I have experienced life-altering healing by the arms of those who lived out church around me.
The happy irony of the words spoken to me is this: we were standing in a room in which the church had just gathered. Only minutes before, the room was full of people who, for two hours, sat in a circle offering vulnerable confessions about their fears, addictions, their pain, their depression, and sorrows. The same group sang and read words from Isaiah that declared, “Behold I am doing a new thing, can you perceive it?” The same group submerged their pained stories into the ongoing story of a God who knows how to form beauty from suffering. It was the church gathered and alive; and it was beautiful, real, raw, intentional, healing, restoring, and joyful.
And there in that very room we stood and cried together. And it made me smile. Because although she was adrift on the sea of hurt, I knew she wasn’t far from the land of hope.
The hope of Advent I see this week is this…even in a day and culture suffering from acute narrative amnesia…even when the beautiful gospel preached by Jesus has been co-opted and deformed into not-so-good-news by the marketers and politicos of our day…even when the daily news cycle reveals the idols of fear, power, and privilege hidden beneath steeples….there is still a wildly free and active God doing a new thing.