Scripture reading for today:

Isaiah 24:1-16a, Psalm 21, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

The tensions of Advent

As I read the words of the prophet Isaiah, I suspect that if he lived in modern times he would probably not be a popular guest at many Christmas parties. The voice of the prophet is not one of good cheer or holiday spirits. They are not the feel-good words that bring about the warm and fuzzy feelings which multitude of hallmark movies, which bombard my Netflix feed, tell me Christmas should be about. 

No one wants to be stuck talking to the guy who begins his conversation with… “Danger ahead! God’s about to ravish the earth and leave it in ruins, Rip everything out by the roots and send everyone scurrying” (Isaiah 24:1 The Message). Despite the lack of popularity, prophetic words are words truth. At times these truths may feel harsh or depressing but they are true nonetheless. The devastation of these words reveals a truth that doesn’t just disappear during the holiday season.

In recent days I have been reminded in heart-wrenching ways that Christmas cheer and holiday spirit is a facade for many. It is not the lived reality for many. For many, the holidays intensify the loneliness, hurt and broken relationships that exist. For those grieving, the holidays are an inescapable reminder of the giant hole that has been left in their lives. Simply put for many whose lives reflect the truth that the world is not as it should be, Christmas is hard. This is why Christmas needs Advent. Advent gives permission to live in the tension of a kingdom that is here and not yet. Henri Nouwen captures this tension beautifully in his Advent prayer:

“Lord Jesus, master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, ‘Come Lord Jesus!’” 

On Sundays, I have the privilege of worshipping with a small group of people that collectively make up The Meeting Place. We meet in a cafe in Hamilton, Ontario called 541: Eatery and Exchange. It is a cafe that in the week functions on a pay-it-forward system. Those who can afford a little extra can pay-it-forward by buying a button. Those who are in need can use the buttons to purchase a meal. On Sundays the buttons are put aside and we come together and worship alongside one another. 

This particular Sunday I was fairly distracted by incoming texts regarding two different heartbreaking situations. The first was the news of a friend who had been hospitalized with a sudden brain bleed, and the second was the funeral details from a grandmother for her 5-year old grandson who was killed in a horrible car accident days before. They are the type of distractions that are a blatant reminder that tragedy does not pause for the holidays and all is not right in this world. 

In my distraction, I stood at the back of the room and looked around at the many faces that were present. Some faces that were done up with makeup, one that was full of scratches, presumably from a fight earlier in the week, other faces that were recently washed and some which were covered in many days worth dirt. I looked around and was struck by the peace that filled the space. The room was relatively quiet (for us at least), and people were captivated by a beautiful story that was being told in lieu of a sermon this week. 

This may not seem like that big of a deal if in your mind you are picturing a “normal” church setting. Yet for our community it is. Our community is not made up of many people who would find it hard to walk through the doors of a “normal” church on a Sunday morning. We are a community that is made up of many who have been pushed to the margins of society. Some who are struggling for the very basics of survival, like food and shelter. Others are haunted by the realities of mental illness and addiction, and others who have suffered from unthinkable trauma’s. So for this place, and these people and our community peace is something of which to be in awe. 

   

As I stood marvelling at the presence of peace which had momentarily captured the room, it was God’s quiet reminder that this is what it is to live in the tension of Advent. To live in the tension that we are living out the realities of Isaiah 24: 5, we are living in a world in which “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.”  

But despite this reality, peace is possible. Despite the devastation of grief and loss, despite the injustices that push so many to the margins of society, despite the horrific traumas that many have lived through, peace is possible. For some of those who were present at The Meeting Place this given Sunday, they were able to take a hiatus from the chaos and hardship of life and experience a peace that surpasses all understanding. A peace that is only possible because Christ came in the form of a baby in the manger and because He will return for His reign as King. Until that return, we are called to be a people that seek peace while living in the tension that is Advent.

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.