Advent is a season for broken hearts. In stark contrast to the holly and jolly of the cultural calendar, the church year reminds us that a few toys or presents are crappy substitutes for the bigger ache in our lives.
The Advent season is a time of hard longing for something more, something better than we now see. In Advent we take stock of our broken world, recognizing all that is bent, bruised, broken and unfulfilled. I’d rather look the other way because that is painful and leaves you with an ache for something bright to break all this shadow and decay.
But if I ever miss that mood of Advent, today is the day it smacks me straight in the face. Five years ago my nephew, returning home from writing a university exam, too tired to stay awake, was killed in a car accident.
I hate so much about this. I hate it that this glorious young life was snuffed out (David was such a beautiful soul). I hate it that he didn’t have the money for a coffee or think to take a nap. I hate the hideous power of death, how its strength lingers still. I hate the loss of so much promise, so much good never realized. I hate how grief has wrenched and contorted his family’s lives.
I struggle to find sense in this, and by extension, to all that is wrong with this world. Sometimes my heart can hardly stand it. Why God? Where is the purpose, the sense in this?
I feel this uncorked anger, something livid rising up in me every year this day. This is not the way things are supposed to be. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children on a frozen December day. Parents of black teens shouldn’t have to coach them on how not to get killed when they walk the streets. Our society (and our own hearts) shouldn’t still be so unfathomably racist. Our justice systems shouldn’t protect the privileged and neglect the marginalized.
Advent is a time to hope but I don’t want to hope – hope feels too cheap in the face of all that’s wrong, like someone offering you a drug to medicate the sting. Instead of hope, I want to be angry, to rage, to swear and hit something hard, to do some damage, to make somebody pay!
And anger feels good for a while, but leaves me empty, sort of like getting hopped up on all sorts of Christmas candy out of the Advent calendar. But after the sugar high comes the crash. And after the anger, the real anger over my nephew’s death and then all my other moral outrage over all the endless crap in this world, I’m left empty, needing something more so badly.
I’m faced with a choice. Decide this world is completely screwed up with no good purpose and stick with some really good feeling self-righteous anger (and then probably act out in all the ways I rage about) … or let go, let Jesus take my anger, the sadness, let him change me. And then trust, trust that maybe there is something better, trust that this homesickness I feel for a world that works right actually corresponds to something real.
Hope is not a drug to keep you blissed out in the middle of misery; its actually the most awake, alive, alert posture you can hold. You’re awake to the deepest parts of your heart that is sick for a real place where all shall be well; you’re doing the harder thing of staying alert to the deepest echoes of reality that whisper some rumour of glory.
So though the evidence isn’t always convincing, though my heart isn’t always sure, today I choose to live with my homesickness for a world that works, and hope.