Scripture reading for today (click link to read texts):
Dwelling in Darkness
In my experience, these first few weeks of Advent always seem to be the darkest. The golden hues of autumn are long gone, the time change has snuck up on us, and we are slowly adjusting to our newly dark world. While the shortest day of the year is still a few weeks away, during these early days of the season the dark can seem darker, especially as the twinkle and glimmer of Christmas festivities has yet to inoculate us against the darkness. During this time of the season are forced to become people who dwell in the dark.
In comparison to the Christmas season, Advent is definitely the darker season, reflecting our darkened physical world. During Advent we delay the joyful celebrations for that babe in a manger and do that hard inner work of preparing our hearts for a Messiah. We dwell in this season of preparation, learning to wait in anticipation for what will come. While it can be tempting to jump over Advent and go right to Christmas, there are lessons in this darker season and in the end we are left better prepared to receive the Messiah.
It seems that we can also go through Advent seasons in our lives. While we may want to jump ahead to all the good bits of life and enjoy the glitz and the glam, at times we are subjected to a darker time. A time of preparation. Of waiting. Of dwelling in the darkness.
I’ve gone through a season of advent in my life, or perhaps I am still within the darker waiting season, sometimes it can be hard to tell. Since graduating from seminary a couple of years ago, I find that I’ve been called to a season of preparation and waiting, faithfully discerning in the church planting world. I’ve been hanging out on the margins of my denomination, engaged in smaller ministries of leading missional initiatives, a family-based dinner church here, an amorphous missional dinner hosting network there. In my personal season of Advent I’ve been busy praying attention and watching from the sidelines, taking note of how God’s plan is unfolding in my community and how the Spirit is inviting me to join in with building Christ’s church.
While most of my work has been preparation, discernment, and waiting, I have to admit that at times I have been tempted to jump over all this hard preparation work and just take a call with an established congregation. In my darker moments of doubt, wading into the centre of the denomination, taking up a ministry that most others would look at and say, yup, that’s the church, seems really appealing. However, as I have consistently been drawn towards creating new worshipping communities, then for me, that call would be the wrong call.
I find that while I dwell on these thoughts, the loneliness of the margins can creep in and I’ve become pretty proficient at doubting my path. It can be dark out here on the margins of the institutional church. Doubts rise up, questioning if this is actually where God is leading me, and my ego desperately waiting for the time when I will actually have arrived and succeed.
While King David might not be a biblical figure that is frequently associated with ministry on the margins, I do find comfort and encouragement in his unfulfilled desire of building the temple. David is generally known for his great achievements, but in 2 Samuel 7 we witness God flatly rejecting David’s dream to build the temple. In David’s prayer in verses 18-29, we see that from this rejection and understanding that while David’s heart is in the right place, God is working on another timeline. And so, David must wait. He will never actually see the building of the temple, rather it is his son who will carry out that task. David isn’t allowed to jump over this time of waiting.
I know that I am not alone in these doubts and darkness of the church planting world. For every story of success, there are three stories of failure. In many denominations, church planting is still seen as a fringe activity, relegated to the outer circles, competing for scraps of funding, fighting an uphill battle again the institution. In our darker moments we can yearn for the coming into our own, to just skip over this advent season.
Yet, there are lessons to be learned in the margins. While I might yearn for the stability that established congregations hold, I’ve come to be grateful for the flexibility and freedom that is granted when you are not front and centre.
When I return my focus to the margins that I inhabit, I see that there are many other folks gathered here with me. People are eager to join in with missional experiments and church plants, leaders are rising up within my own denomination and connections and support is being found across denominational boundaries.
When I take time to faithfully dwell in this darkness, I have been humbled to recognize that God also dwells in this darkness with us.When I take time to faithfully dwell in this darkness, I have been humbled to recognize that God also dwells in this darkness with us. Click To Tweet
In God’s rejection letter to David’s temple application (2 Samuel 7: 5-16) David is reminded that God has always been present with the people of Israel. Ever since leaving Egypt, God has dwelt among the people, moving with themes they wandered through the wilderness and staying with them as they entered the promised land. Furthermore, David is informed, God has been busy planting the people in the land so that they will be able to have a home forever.
At times God calls us to the margins, calls us into the darkness. As we dwell in this darkness, praying and crying out to God, we find that God is already here with us. As we do the work of preparation and waiting to come into our own, we are reminded that God’s dwelling is not in the temple, is not just in our established, tall steepled stone churches, is not just in in our hipster coffee shop churches. We are reminded that God dwells with us where we are, even in the darkness. God dwells with us in the darkness.
May this Advent be a time for you to dwell in the darkness. May it be a time for you to explore these margins, and to find those who are called to the margins there with you. And might be just be that as all of our eyes adjust to the dark, we will find that God is dwelling here with us, and we are exactly where we need to be.
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