Scripture reading for today (click to read):

Jeremiah 33:14-16, Psalms 25:1-10, 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, Luke 21:25-36

Doubt in the Darkness

There are three absolutely massive trees in my backyard. They dominate the view through my bedroom window. Each morning they offer me my own personal briefing on the world outside: wind, rain, snow, frost, darkness, or light. Bare branches in winter, red buds in spring, green leaves of summer followed by yellow leaves in early fall. Each season is broadcast across their branches like a headline. As Advent begins my trees have already begun to herald their annual bleak message “the end is near.” Early December where I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, means that the bitter and lonely winds of winter are now on the move. My snow shovels will have been in active use for weeks. The darkness of night is deepening and continues to crowd out more and more of the daylight. Here on the Canadian prairies winter has particularly high self-esteem. Technically winter won’t start for another couple of weeks, but that doesn’t give our winter pause. Winter here really knows how to carpe its diem. As Advent starts the prairies are already firmly in winters icy grasp. For the next 5 to 6 months winter will march confidently across the plains and will not falter until Easter. People here will do what we do every year — just patiently wait it out.

As we enter into this Advent season, a season of expectancy and waiting, we begin with the dark days. Dark days spent waiting in the margins. Suffering and injustice seem to grow more confident. The world outside my window begins to mourn “in lonely exile here.” As the howling wind grows, so does my longing for a world made right. How does anyone cling to hope in times like these?

Today’s passages are like a welcome guest on a dark and windy day. Each in their own way sitting with us here in the margins. Each willing to keep watch with us as the church in Canada enters into longer and longer nights. Each willing to speak candidly about what it’s like to make home at the margins of society, and in the shadow of an empire. Each nodding with a knowing look as we talk about friends who have abandoned the faith, either through doubt or by selling it for a cheap form of social power. Each passage is clear eyed and conversant in the sacred art of carrying smouldering embers of hope in a world that is groaning and expectant.  

Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, sitting in the ruins of a once great kingdom can tell you about his longings for a new living branch to grow out of this ruined place. With prophetic eyes, he sees that God is not cowed by the swaggering darkness. He can see past the present, through the centuries, and welcomes the Easter that is still coming. The Psalmist plops themselves on the couch and joyfully states that the people that trust in God will “never be put to shame.” Paul chimes in, he knows a thing or two about holding out hope when the world looks hopeless, and reminds us to love each other, to hold out hope, to seek God and let him purify us while we wait.

Jesus, you will notice has been waiting with us here the whole time. In Luke, he seems to be speaking about our day when he says, “Terror will make people faint. They will be worried about what is happening in the world.” The stars and moon have been “shaken from their place” and are finding it harder and harder to hold their position in the sky. He encourages and warns us to keep our eyes on the branches. When the leaves return so will God and the completion of his kingdom.

The three prophets in my backyard have rings hidden deep in their wooden flesh that promise that cold and darkness never get the final word. Season after season of endurance and victory have left their mark. As the scriptures remind us today, this is also true of the people of God. Season after season of endurance and victory have left their mark on us too. We know what it is to endure winter. We also know what it is to embrace the new life and flourishing that summer brings.

We know what it is to endure winter. We also know what it is to embrace the new life and flourishing that summer brings Click To Tweet

As you go about your day today, let me encourage you to count yourself among God’s people. There are people around you whose lives have been ground up in the gears of unjust and fallen powers. In the shadow of this empire is a mountain of wreckage.  
You are a person that has known suffering.  
You come from a people that have known suffering.  
So be a faithful companion to those that are suffering.  
Keep watch with them.  
Sit with them.  
Listen to them.  
Sift through the wreckage with them.  
Grieve with them.  
Weep with them.  
Because of who you are and the people you belong to, you are good company.  

Consider this also. In the shadow of this empire, there is a growing light. There are people around who are ready to start rebuilding.
You are a person who has seen what God sees.
You come from a people that are still around because of what God has done.
So be a companion in the rebuilding efforts.
Roll up your sleeves and pitch in with your neighbours.  
Bring with you both your hope AND your shovel.
Ask God to show you how to keep the embers of hope alive.
When all seems lost, tell people that you know Somebody.
Tell them that everything this person touches comes back to life.
Tell them that every darkened room this person enters shines with brilliant light.
Today, you can form healing partnerships with those that are rebuilding their lives and their neighbourhoods.  

Keep watch friends.  

God isn’t finished with this world yet.    

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.

photo credit: Fabrizio Verrecchia