I’ve read the articles and lived long enough to learn that the Christmas season can be a difficult season for those in pain. The lonely, the broken, those who are mourning — we don’t tend to look forward to “the most wonderful time of the year”. I struggled with depression myself; life hasn’t always been kind. Trust me, I understand.
Yet this year I am defying those “truths”. I am daring to find real comfort in this season of my pain. But wait . . . I’m barely surviving in a season full of incredible highs and confounding lows. Is there really something in a manger birth story thousands of years ago that will steady my trembling heart? Well, if there is, I want it.
Last Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent. As a family, we have traditions. We light a candle, sing a song, and reflect on ancient texts that tell of the expectation of a coming Savior. It’s all very familiar to me. But I challenged my heart to stay awake. I was determined to find food for my starving soul in these rituals. And HOLY COW – as I was explaining the passage from Isaiah to my little girl, I was shocked to find my voice quivering and a knot forming in my throat. I couldn’t keep it together. I am so glad my husband was able to continue.
As Christians, we view Advent as not only a time to remember that Christ came – away in a manager with no crib for a bed – years ago. We also remind ourselves that He is coming again. It was when I reflected on that promise of His, that crazy promise to “make all the sad things untrue”*, that I fell apart.
What is it about longing for the return of Christ that left me undone?
I remember that moment in my early twenties when this idea clicked for the first time. All of a sudden I realized that heaven is home – like REALLY. C.S Lewis said, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” I felt it deep in my belly: an acute homesickness, an intense longing. Nowadays, the revelation fades in and out of the foreground of my mind as life goes on.
This past year has been a doozy. Painful goodbyes, hopeful hellos and all the bumps and bruises that come with SO. MUCH. change. Sometimes I’m soaring, sometimes I’m barely keeping my head above water, but most of the time I’m doing what I do best: plowing onward. Steady. Consistently. In a sense, I’ve brushed past complicated pain and multi-layered uneasiness. I’ve shrugged it off and kept going. Time wasn’t standing still and I found no real time to process it all.
Then it was suddenly time to light a candle, remember Hope, and whisper “Come, Lord Jesus.” And like a two-by-four smacking me across the face, a surge of emotion took me by surprise. I couldn’t stop the hot tears from welling up in my eyes and the ache from forming a lump in my throat. “. . . I want to go Home.” I felt my heart crying out to Him. I watched the vulnerable flame flicker, remembered that He fulfilled His promise to come once and He will be faithful to fulfill His promise to come again. With a brave inhale, I tried to give those emotions to Him, then exhaled, embracing His promise of comfort.
I made it through that first night of Advent, and I’m left a bit shell shocked. What is it about Advent that exposes my heart’s nakedness? Why does that longing for Home seem to release all the pain, joy, love, disappointment that’s been filling my life lately?
In the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, there is a list of incredible people who truly trusted. It says of them “. . . having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”**
Advent knocked the wind out of me this year because I needed to be reminded that all of this – this pain, this joy, this beauty, this hurt – is not forever. This is not my homeland. I was reminded rather dramatically by a simple candle that my hope is in a “better country”. All at once I was homesick, I was sorry for forgetting, I was relieved that the suffocating confusion of this past season isn’t the end of this story, I was feeling relief.
That baby born to a frightened teenager in a stable long ago is so much more than a seasonal story. It is my reminder that He is the Promise Keeper. It is not a reason for me to have a pity party and look at what I don’t have or dwell on how painful life can be. It is the catalyst for Hope, reminding me that even death is not final and one day all my tears will be wiped away by the Rescuer Himself.
This week, we lit the Peace candle and I had my box of tissues ready. I was not going to be caught off guard this time. I am going to let Him guide me through this Advent season and allow Him to be everything I need until I get Home.
Come Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.***
*Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible
**Hebrews 11:13b-16a, The Holy Bible – English Standard Version
***Charles Wesley, 1745 Come Thou Long Expected Jesus