Advent with Skin On

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- Brad Nelson

“Dear God, in the darkness of the virgin’s womb the holy child grows. In the darkness of the world’s pain, the blessed light begins to kindle. In the darkness of our own doubting of thee and of ourselves, the great hope begins to rise again like a lump in the throat: the hope that thou wilt come to us truly, that the child will be born again in our midst, the Prince of Peace in a world at war, the hope that thou wilt ransom us and our world from the darkness that seeks to destroy us...

Be born among us that we may ourselves be born. Be born within us that by words and deeds of love we may bear the tidings of thy birth to a world that dies for lack of love. We ask it in the child’s name.

Amen.”

Frederick Buechner

Many of us know Advent as the name of the season leading up to Christmas. There are the advent candles, the wreaths, and the child in the manger. We speak of hope, peace, joy, and love.  Others begin with the word advent itself, which means “coming or arrival.” In that sense, I understand Advent as the longing for the world to be the way it’s supposed to be and the simultaneous ache we feel because it isn’t. Still, words like longing and ache have a tendency to drift around aimlessly in our minds and hearts as religious abstractions. They are nice thoughts, but what has advent got to do with the stuff of day to day life? With getting children dressed and out the door, or navigating difficult relationships? What does it have to teach us about living when it seems like nine times out of ten we are simply existing, trying to figure out who we are and where we’re going, and only catching sporadic glimpses of the life that I believe wants to live in us? 

What does Advent look like with skin on? 

In a letter written to her imprisoned fiance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Maria von Wedemeyer writes, “And now Christmas is coming and you won’t be there. We shall be apart, yes, but very close together. My thoughts will come to you and accompany you. We shall sing “Peace on Earth” and pray together, but we shall sing “Glory be to God on high” even louder. That is what I pray for you and for all of us, that the Savior may throw open the gates of heaven for us at the darkest night on Christmas Eve, so that we can be joyful in spite of everything.”

December 10, 1943

That’s Advent with skin on. Perhaps you’ve had the privilege of knowing someone like Maria who seems to possess an otherworldly kind of wholeness, the kind that keeps a person from being defined by or reduced to their circumstances. These kinds of people wait just like the rest of us. They wait for things to work out. They hope and pray, but they do it with a kind of hopeful insistence that the light for which they wait has already begun to break into the world, and, if you watch close enough, you’ll see it flickering even in the darkest night.

“He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” So says the book of Revelation, and I think the emphasis is on the word “this,” as if to say, “If you can count on anything, you count on this: I am making everything new!” I am so prone to cynicism, prone to believe that if anything can be trusted it’s that things probably won’t work out and will stay mostly the same because that’s what always happens.

Advent is the defiant voice that says, “No. That’s not always what happens.” Wait. Watch. Listen. Name and hold fast to those glimpses of newness and light that break through the darkness because in the words of the late Irish mystice John O’Donohue, “how you see and what you see determine how and who you will be.”

This Advent, may you ponder the glimpses of newness and life that you’ve been given over the last year, and may they instigate in you the hopeful tenacity of the God who is making all things new. 

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Brad is currently the pastor of formation at Church of Hope in Ocala, Florida and served on the pastoral staff at Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, Michigan for 8 years. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara.

To see more of Brad's writing check out his website bleedingoutloud.com or follow him on twitter@bradleyjnelson 

Contact Brad at nelson.bradleyj@me.com.