Into our exhaustion breaks the season of Advent, when we look to the Light of the world for Consolation.
“Lord, just help us make it to Advent…”
I’ve found myself praying these words with increasing frequency over the last few weeks, just as I found myself praying them around this time during each of the past three years. Contrary to T. S. Eliot’s turn of the phrase, November has always seemed the cruelest month during these years—if not always for me, then for many of my dearest friends. And the latter is harder to bear.. The weeks that follow the happy blazes of autumn bring with them some of the most profound exhaustion, sadness, and disheartening news that I ever witness. By mid-October I have started bracing myself for this seemingly merciless season as I watch the pages of the calendar drop to the ground in a gloomy march towards the deepening of the year.
This phenomenon seemed strange to me when I first began to notice it. After all, that moment when the first cold breeze hits my face is perhaps the most anticipated nanosecond of my year. I have long called fall my favorite season, for September and October have stored within their days many of my most joyous memories. But my dear mother has always had a different opinion, saying that she couldn’t truly love the fall for dread of what came after it. I think the passing of recent years have helped me better understand what she means.
More is at play here than seasonal depression, I think. Or perhaps the seasonal depression is a far weightier matter than we have assumed it to be, stretching its roots beyond our present emotions and circumstances to manifest the more hidden and fearful parts of our souls. The waning of every year has an unmistakable knack for reminding us of our need for light, and I can’t help but wonder if this year, many of us are at least more aware of that need than we have been in the past. The year is tired and so are we – tired of bad news at home and abroad, tired of conflict, and tired of our neighbors. If we are honest, we’re also tired of ourselves. The entire world is at war with itself, and this external reality is a painfully obvious macrocosm of the state of our own sinful hearts.
Into this exhaustion breaks the season of Advent, during which we recall the first coming of Israel’s Consolation. And not only do we recall His coming itself, but also the anxious dark centuries that preceded His arrival – centuries filled with bad news, with horrible conflict, with tiresome neighbors, with sinful hearts and the fainting but persistent longing to see the promised Great Light. Nothing has changed since the days of Caesar Augustus: stables are still dirty, taxes are still collected, kings still murder babies to keep their thrones, and there is still no room for the traveler at the inn. It was into a tired world exactly like ours that Christ first appeared—not, mind you, in regal power or majesty, but hidden away in tiny Bethlehem, taking upon Himself the weak and helpless form of those whom He came to save.
It strikes me as an unspeakable kindness that the church year begins with Advent, and that Advent overlaps the halting, often gasping, breaths we breathe as the calendar year comes to a close. I pray that those gasps might be given back to us as we ponder the miracle of the Incarnation and wait for Christmas to arrive. I pray that we will fix our tired and sorely distracted eyes upon Christ in the manger, the babe who would become Christ on the cross and Christ of the empty tomb. He is the God who has come to us, who still comes to us, and who is coming again.
I pray that He will disperse the gloomy clouds of night and bid our sad divisions cease.