Posted by Tyler Kirkpatrick | 12/10/2019
“The people walking in darkness have a seen a great light… A child is born to us, a son is given…” -Isaiah 9:2, 6
Karl Rahner once said this about Advent: “Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: ‘Come!’”
I got a head start on my sermon prep this week because our choir already sang the text into my soul on Sunday with their gorgeous rendition of Isaiah 9 from Handel’s Messiah (if you missed it, you can listen to it here beginning at the 23:31 mark). As I’ve begun preliminary work on this birth annunciation text in Isaiah, I’ve been thinking about the particular poignancy Advent has for Brittany and me this year. We eagerly and excitedly and nervously wait for the birth of our son in January. We’re in the final stages of “preparing the way” and “making room,” completing last minute projects in our nursery and home. We’ve paid attention to the “signs and wonders”: a growing belly, morning sickness, ultrasounds and the stories of other parents who have gone before. We wait in faithful and joyous expectation. Come!
And yet it’s impossible for me to forget the particular poignancy of last year’s Advent for us as well. As I’ve shared with the congregation before, Brittany and I suffered a miscarriage last September. The song that sung into my soul last Advent was not from Handel’s Messiah but JJ Heller’s “Braver Still”:
I never saw it coming
There was no way to prepare
The world kept spinning 'round me
And left me standing there
And it's okay to grieve
A life that could not be
I'm trying to believe
In something better
Last Advent we grieved and worried and waited, hoping for God’s promises of goodness and faithfulness to manifest themselves in some new way, waiting in what felt like perpetual darkness for a glimmer of light. We clung tightly to words of scripture and words of prayer spoken over us. We waited in need, and we waited in yearning. Come!
Our office staff is reading a book right now together called Love Big, Be Well about doing life and ministry in a small-town church. The author observes this about the church calendar: “it gives us a way to practice our faith even when we do not feel our faith. We are not asked, come February or March, whether or not we’d like to repent and make room for God. Lent simply instructs us to do it. No one asks us whether or not we feel up to celebrating Easter… No, Easter simply hands us a fifty-day feast and says, Go do joy.”
I like that.
The season of Advent simply arrives, no matter what our particular mood is today, and it instructs us to pray, “Come!” And yet the profundity of that word is that we can come together as a church to pray that word. Those of us waiting in joyful expectation can tell stories of God’s faithfulness, even as we hold and sit with an pray over those of us who need to be held and sat with and prayed over, those of us who are waiting in need and in painful yearning. And somehow, we can come before God together as the church with all of those things rolled together—with both the “hopes and fears of all the years” and we can pray one word: Come!