Joy and sorrow are inseparable: An Advent reflection, part one

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Advent is an invitation to celebrate and anticipate joy. Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 says that even arid and wilderness places will rejoice. It promises those who have endured hardship will see afresh, hear anew, jump, and sing for joy. But I’m confused because we also read about John the Baptist, and for him, joy seems elusive. And it’s understandable; he’s unjustly imprisoned. 

However, in the Gospel reading for the second week of Advent (Calendar A), John was brimming with conviction and what David Lose calls a “clear and compelling call for repentance.” But in the reading for the third week of Advent, John is isolated and alone in a dark cell. He no longer sounds confident and is questioning his mission and identity. So John sends a messenger to ask Jesus a poignant, even heartbreaking question:

“Jesus, are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

“Jesus, are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Some feel it’s blasphemous to question God, but it doesn’t look like Jesus minded honest questions. John is in anguish, and Jesus can empathize. It wouldn’t be much longer after this that Jesus himself would have a bold question of his own: “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me!” 

Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?

Despondency can come in a variety of forms during Advent. For some, it’s seasonal affective disorder. For others, it’s the stress of capitalism and the anxiety of fulfilling unwarranted expectations. So we overcommit, overextend, and overspend. Personal boundaries and personal budgets get eviscerated, and we forget the reason for the season. We go from party to party, meal to meal, and end the year exhausted in every way imaginable.

There’s another reason many of us experience a blue Christmas, and this one hits closer to home; it’s grief and loss.

A close relative has a holiday tradition. When we gather at their home, everyone is invited to write their name on the white tablecloth on the dining room table. After the holidays, the host stitches the names onto the tablecloth, each year having its distinct color. This tradition has been going on for well over two decades. What started as quirky became cute, then nostalgic. Now it can evoke sadness in me as we see the names of those who have gone before us, including the infant silhouette of a hand belonging to a beloved child gone too soon. 

Jesus, are you the one? Are you the one who does the miraculous, gives new life, and brings good news, or should we look for another?”

QUERY: Sit for a moment with your laments and sorrows. Where are the safe and brave spaces where you can ask hard questions and express honest fears and doubts? Give thanks for those spaces.

Click here for part two.

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