The Agony of Advent: You are not alone

man in snow

This last weekend I found myself in an all too familiar place, driving home alone on another rainy Saturday night after another holiday party. The evening was everything it was supposed to be – mulled wine, belly laughs, and festive sweaters. I was grateful, and yet my heart was aching. If you know me, you know that Christmas is by far my favorite holiday. I love picking out the tree, arranging the nativity scene, hanging the lights and hunting for the perfect gift. I love the rituals and traditions of advent. I love the smells of pine and spices, the sounds of bells and children signing. But mostly, since I was little boy, I have been recklessly captivated by the story of a God who is with us. And yet, on this night, the stories of an advent of a healer who would be near and would redeem the world felt like nothing more than a fairytale.

I was alone.

I wasn’t actually alone. I’m hardly ever really alone.

I was on my way home from spending time with friends who have loved and cared for me well. And I was driving back to a warm house with my wife and daughter eagerly awaiting my arrival. There are many others who bare the heartache of loneliness much more than me. But for those of us who have wrestled with the realities of the harm in our childhood stories, this season of families gathering and communities celebrating can leave our hearts aching for the love that we so deeply desired and continue to hope for. My heart longs to be seen and known and I cannot escape that. My stories have shaped me to be a man that will always ache for the truest sense of the word “Immanuel”.

And while this year, I have known such sweet moments of the tenderness of Jesus and his arrival, I cannot turn my face away from the agony of wounds still healing. This is a time when we remember the story of Jesus, an unwanted baby boy born into the hands of an unwed woman. He is a king and a prophet, and yet he is profoundly orphaned. He knows what it means to be unwanted and alone so much so that, as Dan mentioned in this week’s podcast, the very beginning of his story is of shame, betrayal, and powerlessness. While this is the story of God, it is also the story of us.

So to those of us who ache in this time of the year, whether you are setting a dinner table with a new empty seat, hiding in a bathroom of a chaotic family gathering, or even driving home alone after yet another holiday party, you ache because you, too, know that birth is not without death. And as you have fought so bravely to engage your stories of death, even the birth of redemption can leave scars.

The incarnation is not an invitation to escape into dissociation and distraction

You are not alone.

We are not alone. Advent is not the time for us to hide or belittle that we are a people who wait and lament, who anticipate and hope, and who ache and fight for the kingdom of God.

The incarnation is not an invitation to escape into dissociation and distraction. So, may your first gift of the season be one of honoring and blessing all that your heart feels and knows to be true. Both his humanity and yours is a sacred part of the story. May it not be dismissed. And yet, may you also pause to remember the inconceivable truth that our God has known shame and vulnerability, born a bastard among the animals, and yet is worthy of frankincense and myrrh. We live in that paradox. We worship him knowing, that he too one day will wash our feet and welcome us home. And while we are still a people in exile, alone—he is with us, Immanuel.

He is with you as you share yet another meal with perhaps your first abuser. He is with you as you face new rounds of familiar criticism and skepticism. He is with you as you remember all that you have endured to survive another year on this earth.

On Saturday night, I eventually made it home. I walked in through the front door and I could see my wife quietly sitting in the dim lit living room. And in the hue of the warm lights of the tree and garland, she caught my eye and in seconds she had read my face well. The rest of the night was a gift that I will remember as a hallmark for a new way of advent. I shared the agony of my stories of loneliness, and while none of them were new to her, she was a witness to just how brutal this time of the year can be to me and to those around me. Together, with hope, we bore the pain of waiting and anticipating for more healing, more community, and more miraculous births of redemption.

Though joy and cheer surround us, the agony of advent does not escape us. The ache of the tragedy of our stories and our loneliness is real. And yet, we are a people of profound incarnate hope, remembering that in the truest sense, we are not alone.