Advent 2018: PART IV
I dread the dark, cloudy, short days and long nights of Seattle winter, but the climate does create an excellent backdrop for the candles and waiting of Advent. One of my hopes for my season of repentance and reverent waiting was to find use for and peace with the literal darkness. But the seven days following the first Sunday of Advent were nothing but dazzlingly bright, bluebird days.
On that first sunny day, I stuffed Bran, my three year old, into coat and carseat to go buy more bath towels for the five guests that will cycle through our six resident home this Christmas. At our northern latitude, the sun hangs low and can be blinding, often leading Bran to say, “I don’t like that big ball of the sun.”
“But, honey,” I say. “We have to enjoy the light when it’s here! The clouds will come back soon.”
Back from our adventure to Ross Dress for Less, Bran and I had to wait a second for our eyes to adjust to the shadowy house. And there they were: a hundred rainbows, some the size of coins, some as big as Bran refracted onto the walls and ceiling. The low-hanging noon sun burst through our dining room window and created a cathedral-like scene of colored light all around. At first, I assumed the rainbows were created by the faceted hummingbird ornament I hung in the window. Looking closer, I noticed instead that the rainbows were provided by the short crystal candlestick holding up the Advent candle for week one. “The light shines in the darkness, indeed,” I thought.
A few hours later with Bran tucked in for a nap, I sat down with my Bible and a list of diagnostic questions to ask myself: What do I crave? What do I fear? What derails me? What do I expect? Who do I most hurt? How do I numb and self-medicate? I was ready for the Holy Spirit to shine his light into my inky, sticky darkness. I opened up Psalm 139, and there the Holy Spirit swiftly drew my attention not to who I am but to who God is. The psalmist is overwhelmed and amazed by God’s intimate care and knowledge: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”
I had become so attached to the idea of routing out my own sin that I forgot to first dwell on the goodness of God. I may be waiting for that final fulfillment, the ultimate ceasefire, but I am already absolutely known, loved, and safe. Even in the quiet, expectant, humble waiting of Advent, we are never without comfort. I pictured a warm, strong, impenetrable blanket or atmosphere of loving approval all around me. When Jesus went to John the Baptist for the baptism of repentance, the clouds broke open and God said “This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) So, under the righteous robes of the Rescuer King, I too am beloved and pleasing.
Those rainbows that had delighted me so took on even more meaning. My poor little brain could hardly keep up with all the connections and analogies.
First, the light pouring through the window revealed dust on the shelves, smudges everywhere, a thousand dog footprints on the floor, and six years of patina on the never-washed windows. Light reveals the mess.
Second, it’s precisely because we live in a place that gets very dark that the light shined at the angle it did. In the Summer, the sun shines through the treetops and down onto my floors, but on the rare days in Winter when it can, it puts its face directly level with the windows, almost like it is saying, “I’m still here!” And next there is the jumble of beautiful thoughts all related to those beautiful chromatic treasures, the shining little rainbows.
I thought of general versus special revelation. The light came into my whole dark house, but only one room was filled with rainbows. Each room could see itself better. Each room became useful because the light showed its contents and purpose, but the room with the crystal candlesticks was transformed into something magical and different. If the crystals were removed, no special revelation of the true nature of the light would be seen.
“Maybe,” I thought, “maybe it’s that each of us is like a ray of light, but it’s only by going through that narrow space where the crystal is that we can be changed. Or maybe I’m only seeing the light as so beautiful and spectacular because I’ve been looking for it. It’s only because we prepared for Advent that these rainbows are here. I didn’t plan for the room to become magical, for something so special to happen. I just planned to celebrate that light has come into the darkness, and it has!”
I can tend toward the dark and self-deprecating. Here at the start of Advent reflection, I’m just beginning to see the tip of this next iceberg: I’m preoccupied with judgment. If a friend asks me about my day, I absolutely decide whether it was good or bad based on productivity level. I rarely give myself credit for the parts of our life that are challenging, but I expect top performance at all times. I crave feedback and scrounge for approval, but I know that’s bad and judge myself for it. I become morose and desperate. So, maybe there’s a little part of me that was really into the idea of going into a dark, emo, Kylo Ren-style Advent season of self-flagellation and repentance. But, I also know that true freedom in Christ means accepting my own acceptability, belovedness, and the pleasure God takes in me.
These patterns of being, of defense, are deep and difficult to undo, but The Light shines into the darkness! I do hope to jostle (or by His mercy, maybe even dislodge!) some entrenched sin patterns in my life. Only God can do that. To have my first day, my first lesson, be a room filled with resplendent rainbows is beyond humbling. I had nothing to do with it. God showed up in my heart and reminded me that His love is what I need, and it is already mine.
I’l have a post or two next week about mourning and hope!