Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent: Permission to Rejoice and Permission to Mourn

I love Christmas.  I could hardly wait to get the tree up and the lights set up in the yard.  Our boys are at a fun age for Christmas.  My 3 year old is completely enamored by the lights and decorations and is looking forward to celebrating Jesus' birthday.

But Christmas also makes me melancholy.  I actually warned my wife about this when we were dating, just to prepare her for the cloudiness that shades my normally sunny nature. Christmas was hard for me as a single adult.  I'm not sure if it was the loneliness I felt of not having someone to share the holidays with or the sadness of recalling happy Christmas memories from before my parents divorced.  Maybe it was a mixture of both.

In recent years since I've gotten married, the melancholy has largely vanished from my Christmas celebrations.   Unfortunately, it still ambushes me from time to time.  I want to banish it away so I can embrace the joy and life of the Christmas season.

In his book, "Living the Christian Year", author Bobby Gross recognizes this tension and encourages us to give ourselves permission to sing and permission to mourn during the season of Advent.

Truly, there is much to sing about at Christmas:  a Savior is coming who brings light to our dark world, a Shepherd is arriving who will lead us to living water and to the bread of life.  Emmanuel, God with us, is on his way.

Though our savior arrived in Bethlehem many years ago, and though he indwells those of us who follow him, we wait for more.  We wait for the second advent, the momentous day of his second coming.  And while we wait, we live in this "in between" time with a mixture of joy, hope, and lament.

There is much to mourn as I wait:

  • A young friend of mine discovered she had a brain tumor a few weeks ago and is preparing for surgery next week..
  • The wife of a good friend of mine is enduring chemotherapy in a battle with breast cancer
  • Last week, a co-workers endured a tragic loss.  Halfway through her pregnancy, her baby's heartbeat stopped.  A few days later, she entered the hospital to deliver a stillborn baby.
This world is not the way it was supposed to be.  Our address used to be paradise.  Eden.  And one day, we will relocate to a new home in a new heaven and a new earth.

But right now, we live in the remains of what once was as we wait for the arrival of what will be.

Living in this "in between" time stirs up joy over what has already come, hope for what is to come, and sorrow and longing as we endure life in a fallen world and wait for the world to come.

Romans 8:23 describes our condition well.  We "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies."

Groaning inwardly and waiting eagerly. We are invited to do both.

Somehow, giving myself permission to feel melancholy at Christmas thins out the heavy haze that often descends upon me during the holiday season.  I can welcome the melancholy as a friend, knowing that it is a reminder that this world is not my home.  I can be OK with it.  I can normalize it, knowing it is not a bad thing.  I can move away from self-absorption and towards God in prayer.

I can do both:  I can celebrate the season wholeheartedly, and enjoy the view from the perspective of my children while accepting the waves of sadness that wash over me from time to time.

I can sing and mourn, and offer up both as prayers while waiting eagerly for his return.

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