Scripture reading for today:
What We’re Waiting For
The Christmas Eve candlelight service is about to begin. After a day of unsuccessfully trying to avoid meltdowns from over-excited kids, running to the store for one last bag of milk, and racking your brain to remember where on earth you stashed those gifts you bought back in August, you sink wearily into the pew.
As much as you would rather be curled up by the Christmas tree at home, embracing a rare moment of silence, you know that’s not really an option tonight. Your folks are expecting you to sing alto, your husband could use help wrangling little ones, and besides that, everyone would wonder where you are and you have no good alibi.
So you sit with your head down, hungry for the sense of peace that used to come so easily and wondering what it is you’re waiting for anyway. And then, somewhere between the obligatory “Away in the Manger” and “Silent Night,” the tears come.
Because this used to be your favourite church service of the whole year. The candles—remember how you hated to blow them out at the end of the evening?— the a capella harmonies, everyone wearing their sparkly best. More than that, you remember a time when the idea of an incarnate God was so radical, so beautiful, so compelling, that it made you cry. You looked forward to a time when peace on earth—not merely the stuff of sentiment, but shalom—would be realized.
A time when immigrants would have a place to call home.
A time when vulnerable women and children would finally be safe.
A time when hungry people would be fed and prisoners would be set free.
But tonight the harmonies seem hollow and the sparkles have faded, and it’s just not the same anymore.
The steady stream of bad news from around the world.
The pettiness and hypocrisy of church leaders.
The theologically-questionable lyrics to beloved carols.
Your own busyness in a season when you promised yourself that this year would be quieter.
And you wonder, is it really such a great plan after all? Sure, it’s a beautiful vision, but the world has been the same since it began. Those of us entrusted by God to fulfil his grand plan have continually proven ourselves incapable, and what good is a plan if it cannot be carried out?
Then a favourite passage from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia comes to mind. It is at the climax of The Silver Chair. The witch has Prince Rilian and the children enchanted into believing that their underground prison is the only true reality. . .
There is no sun.
There is no sky.
There is no Aslan.
. . . When, in the nick of time, the noble marshwiggle Puddleglum finds the strength to challenge her. An eternal pessimist, Puddleglum concedes that she is probably right, that all they see is all that exists, that there is no hope. Still, he insists, he is so captivated by Aslan and Narnia that he pledges to be “on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it, [and to] live as like a Narnian as [he] can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” There is no other vision that is so compelling, no matter where the truth actually lies, and so he devotes his life to it.
Some years, that’s the best you can do. Life gets so overwhelming that the thought of any other reality seems ludicrous.
Still, you can’t walk away, and so you stubbornly put one foot in front of the other, continuing to live as though it’s all true.
The line between foolishness and faith is thin, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which. Until out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse that takes your breath away. . .
An unexpected act of generosity.
A moment of pure, unadulterated joy.
A sudden flash of beauty.
. . . And you remember what it is you’re working for, what it is you’re waiting for. Even though it could be merely a figment of your imagination, the vision is so captivating that you are willing to devote your life to it again.
In the morning, your doubts will still be there. People will still be clamouring for your attention, church will still be hard, and the news headlines will continue to roll. But for tonight, it’s okay.
The candles are burning brightly, and a King is ready to make his appearance.
Maybe it’s worth waiting a little while longer after all.
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