Advent 1 – Sitting in the Darkness
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away—
– T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”
We’ve grown comfortable with the façade. The pretty backdrop of our lives, the rote stories that prop up our faith, the habits that keep us so distracted that we forget that there is anything more than the construct of life we skim across.
We rush toward Christmas, letting the familiarity of the stories lull us into a contentment with our knowledge of the event. We speak of the return of the light or of the light breaking into the darkness, but often those words are just platitudes we use to pretend that there is some meaning to our experience – that the busyness and the trappings of the season are for a purpose, even if we can’t fully articulate what it is. Even if all we can do is insist on restating the story as we know it to be.
Even the period of anticipation and expectation has become a front for casting judgment on those who display a different façade. Advent often is not about experiencing God in the waiting, but ensuring that the waiting is done properly. If anyone dares mention a Christmas carol, put up a Christmas tree, or (God forbid) use the wrong color candle in an Advent wreath they are resoundingly condemned for not observing the rituals properly.
We are so comfortable with our façades that we miss that there is a deeper story to tell, a drama yet to unfold, a mystery to encounter beyond the constructs we have grown accustomed to. If we will only settle down, let the lights go out, and wait for the imposing façade to be rolled away then perhaps there will be space for the drama to commence.
But turning off the lights is scary. The light distracts us, allows us to only see the façades that we find safe and comforting. Even if they are hollow, they are known. Darkness is unsettling; we don’t know what it might hold, what might by moving within its unseen corners. We would rather embrace the known even if that means that we never encounter where God might be moving than risk having the worlds we have built for ourselves challenged.
Yet, when the darkness surrounds us so does possibility. The potential for God to move and entice us toward encountering mystery enters in with that expectant darkness. The Spirit can hover and in its rumble of wings stir up new ways of being in this world – new stories to tell and depths to explore.
But that is only when we allow the lights to be extinguished and the darkness blanket our imaginations. When we stop simply reiterating the expectations of the season, the words we know by rote, the images we let glaze over our eyes and sit in that darkness, then we might find some meaning in the waiting.
We must sit in that darkness so that we can anticipate not just a preconceived or tired idea of Advent, but the actual advent of God appearing mysteriously and wonderfully in our midst.
To wait implies that no matter how much it might frighten us, we actually expect God to show up.