In the space of 24 hours, I’ve come across three excellent Advent devotional entries that all focus on the desperate reality of our broken world and the darkness of evil. (More on those in just a minute…)
Perhaps I was particularly attuned to this theme as I spent several hours yesterday reading the first half of Isaiah, immersed in the terrible pronouncements of judgment and coming exile. In doing so I noted how the prophecies of Christ shone brilliantly like precious jewels or laser beams in the context of such darkness. The horrors of sin and evil make the promise of redemption and a savior so much more precious and wonderful!
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged. Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel? The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil. Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire; in your very presence foreigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners. (Isaiah 1:4-7 ESV)
They had “forsaken the Lord, despised the Holy One…,” and are described as utterly estranged, having no health or soundness, desolate, devoured… How can there be any hope for them?
And yet just a few verses later, the wonderful promise of cleansing from sin!
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)
What an illustration of the unfathomable depths of God’s grace and mercy! So, I was reminded not to shrink back from the “hard” Advent readings that reveal the desperate darkness of the world and the human heart…
Pondering these things, I then began browsing various blogs and Twitter to finalize our list of recommended Advent devotional sites and resources… and in doing so I’ve come across the following three devotionals- each very different from the other – that do a brilliant job of confronting the reality of evil and pointing to how our honesty about the blackness and desperation of sin and suffering heightens our ability to treasure Christ and the HOPE in Him that is a focus of Advent.
First: a powerful and poignant blog entry by Sarah Bessey, a woman who has known the grief of losing 4 children – Advent: for the ones who know longing. Here are two excerpts:
Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.
Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?
If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing.
As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. I am learning it again in these days in particular when so many are grieving and angry, sad and wounded from the pain of living in this world as it stands right now. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days. […]
I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older.
When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy!
Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent.
Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him.
Advent is for the ones who know longing.
Here’s the full entry. Consider sharing with someone who is grieving this Advent to remind them that God enters into our brokenness and pain. We don’t need to hide it.
Secondly, today’s entry (Dec 1) at the Biola Advent Project site. There is a fantastic exposition of several passages from Lamentations:
Lamentations is a first-person account by the prophet Jeremiah, written as a poem. This book of the Old Testament chronicles the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians, a fall which occurred because the people had hardened their hearts and refused to keep the covenant made between them and God.
The people had prostituted themselves to other gods by sacrificing to them in the high places. They had adopted the incomprehensible practice of sacrificing their children to the god Molech by burning them to death in a ceremonial fire. When you hear of these sorts of transgressions it is not difficult to support God’s destruction of Judah.
For eighteen months the people of Jerusalem endured the unrelenting siege of their city. … As the siege drags on and food begins to run out, Jeremiah describes how the people in their desperation begin to turn to cannibalism to survive (Lam 2:20, 4:10).
How in the world can anyone find hope in the middle of this storm of justifiable holy wrath? Jeremiah writes:
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say,
“My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”
Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me. (Lamentations 3:17-20)
Yet, in the midst of this righteous punishment of a deeply sinful people (a punishment that seemingly should wring out any glimmer of hope,) Jeremiah reminds the reader that God is present even in the depths of despair.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3: 21-23)
Simply put, God is not done yet. The book on the nation of Israel is not closed. The redemption of humanity from our fallen state is not just wishful thinking, but a covenantal promise from a God who keeps His word. Regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, of our own making or not—God is faithful.
We look out at the dark ominous clouds on the horizon of our own existence with foreboding. We wonder how we can be forgiven of sins when our hearts are so desperately wicked, how we can survive this loss of a loved one, this catastrophic and debilitating disease, or a betrayal by someone we loved and trusted. The reality is we can’t . . . not by ourselves.
It is when we wait upon the Lord with hope—that is, with the expectation that eventually all things will be made new in Him—it is because of this hope we are able to have a perspective that transcends this mortal plane. Our hope is found in the coming of Christ in the flesh, “the author and perfecter of our faith,” and in His life, death and resurrection. (emphasis added)
Finally, via Twitter, I discovered a post called Advent/Darkness by Christena Cleveland. It is one of the most powerful Advent reflections I’ve ever read…, and somehow it seems especially needed this year in the face of Ebola, ISIS, terrorist beheadings… etc., etc. There is a prose reflection at the beginning, followed by a poem, or word picture of sorts.
Here, first, is an excerpt of the introductory reflection:
We’ve been tricked by chocolate-filled Advent calendars and blissful Christmas pageants that gloss over the very real evil that makes the Messiah’s coming so very necessary, so very loving, and so very heroic.
Advent isn’t a holiday party. It doesn’t pressure us to conjure up a hopeful face, ring bells, and dismiss the foulest realities we face. Advent isn’t about our best world, it’s about our worst world. I think we eat the chocolate and put on the pageants because we don’t want to face the worst.
But we do the Light a disservice when we underestimate the darkness. Jesus entered a world plagued not only by the darkness of individual pain and sin, but also by the darkness of systemic oppression. Jesus’ people, the Hebrews, were a subjugated people living as exiles in their own land; among other things, they were silenced, targets of police brutality, and exploitatively taxed. They were a people so beaten down by society that only a remnant – most notably Anna and Simeon – continued to believe that the Messianic prophecies would one day come to pass. For many, the darkness of long-standing oppression had extinguished any hope for liberation.
It was into this “worst world” that the Light-in-which-We-See-Light was born, liberating the people from the terror of darkness. So it is in the midst of our worst world that we, too, can most clearly see the Light, for light shines more brightly against a backdrop of true darkness.
Advent is an invitation to plunge into the deep, dark waters of our worst world, knowing that when we re-surface for air we will encounter the hopeful, hovering Spirit of God. For when we dive into the depths of our worst world, we reach a critical point at which our chocolate and pageants no longer satiate our longing for hope – and we are liberated by this realization. Indeed, the light of true hope is found in the midst of darkness.
And here is the poem. Read it slowly, and let it become a prayer, that Christ’s light and truth and salvation would break into and be revealed to those facing the deepest terror and suffering:
Advent/Oppression of Indigenous Peoples
Advent/Mental illness stigma
Advent/Ebola treatment inequality
Advent/Global oppression of women and girls
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Genesis 1:3