Anyone who has woken up in the middle of the night and has not been able to get back to sleep understands how desolate darkness is. Time becomes suspended. The numbers on the digital clock seem stuck. There is silence, emptiness, deep shadows. The day feels very far away. There is no one else around to comfort you or share the misery of sleeplessness. You are on your own.
Of course we know that eventually the sun will rise again. We have to wait but we are certain it is only a matter of time before the day will begin. It’s like our Advent waiting. We mark off the weeks, knowing that there are only four of them. The Advent wreath with its beautiful candlelight pretties up the shadows, so we don’t it feel so alone. Each time we add another candle, the light increases , a sign that we are making progress, that time is moving, that the end–or the beginning–is coming. Even better, we know where the story is going. We know that the angels are coming to sing in bright glory and the darkness will be overcome. And in the meantime, there are presents to be bought and cookies to be made and decorations to be hung. The waiting is festive.
However sometimes there can be dark places in our lives where the promise of coming light seems impossible. A place that is so dark and lonely, there seems to be no hope and we easily fall into doubt, thinking “what if I am a fool for believing the promise?”
I have a few places in my life right now where I am waiting in the dark. Living in the time of ‘not yet’ is not easy. It’s not comfortable or peaceful or infused with happiness. Anxiety buzzes. Fear spouts. Terror blooms. A terrible darkness comes to my heart as the night moves inside. It feels awful not to be in control. But even worse, there is no laboring to be done. With my hands idle, my mind races around going over one scenario and then another. Unlike a woman waiting to give birth, I have no idea how long I will have to wait. And what if I’m waiting for nothing? What if the rains don’t come and the sun doesn’t shine and the seed I’ve planted in the ground doesn’t come to life? What if I’m only waiting for a death?
I try not to dwell on it. My impulse is to fill the time, to find a way to distract myself from the awfulness of not knowing. But I can’t help it and every so often I go and check the soil where I’ve planted a seed. The ground is still dead, the earth is still dry. I begin to hear the whispering accusation: “Is God really going to take care of you?”
I hope so, I think so. But to trust God and to remain open to Him during the darkness is not something I would ever choose. I want to fix the darkness. I want to solve the problem. I want to make things happen. But in the darkness, I hear God say, “Wait. Wait. I am coming.”
So I keep waiting–I don’t really have a choice, but I start to feel dread. What if my advent doesn’t bring me the salvation of a kingly triumph that I’m looking for? What if it is more like a weak, vulnerable baby born in a stable? Or what if it is like a suffering servant who goes through an even greater darkness?
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). [Matthew 27:45-46]
In Jesus’ agonizing cry, I find a response to my dread. Because as I remain in the hopeless dark, I find a great High Priest who waits with me. He knows the shadows even better than I do. He is able to sympathize with my terror. He knows what it is like to be tempted to despair.
And He also knows what it is like to wait. Countless times He has waited for me to come to Him and receive the mercy and grace I need. He has waited through my stubbornness and self-pity and rebellion, as well as my brokenness and pain. And in this awful advent of mine, He is waiting again for me to call out to Him, so I will know I am not alone. For He is Emmanuel: God with us.