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Advent 4 – Invited from the Darkness

2012 December 23
by Julie Clawson

“O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

I heard this carol play on the radio recently and found myself cringing at the lyrics. Truimphalist religion has ravaged the world and the image of God in the world. For the faithful to claim to be triumphant is heard as the chains of oppression by many. Christ the Lord has very little to do with the triumphal attitude of the church throughout history. This is not a hymn I could sing honestly anymore.

Then I wondered, what if instead of assuming that “joyful and triumphant” are modifiers of faithful, I saw them as three distinct references. The faithful, the joyful, and the triumphant are all invited to come behold and adore the one born in Bethlehem. While at times the faithful might be joyful or triumphant, it does not necessarily follow that they will always be such things. Often to be faithful one must embrace the darkness and dwell in that dark night of the soul. While there might be a form of contentment there, it is rarely what one would describe as joyful. And those that faithfully follow the way of Christ where the last are put first and the first last and the humble uplifted and the mighty brought down from their thrones, are not the ones reveling in triumph. There are the faithful, the joyful, and the triumphant – but they are not always one in the same.

Even so, they are all invited to come adore Christ the Lord. All are welcome – those already full of joy, those who believe they triumph over others, and those who remain faithful despite (or because of) the darkness that surrounds them.

This is a helpful reminder as I wrap up my Advent reflections on embracing the darkness. So often in our churches, especially this time of year, it is only the joyful and the triumphant who seem to be invited. The image that is projected is that one must be joyful (it’s the most wonderful time of the year) and participate in triumphalist religion (Jesus is the reason for the season or else) in order to belong as part of the communal body that claims to be adoring the Christ.

But the darkness abounds. Sometimes it can be a peaceful and needful return to listening to God, at other times it is the weight of all the horrors of the world. Many of the faithful find themselves in this darkness without joy or (thankfully) delusions of triumphalism. They too are invited to come and adore, but all too often they are expected to discard the darkness before they are allowed into the institutions that lay claim to the right to direct that adoration.

But there are days when many of us cannot be joyful, and many of us fear any hint of triumphalism. But we are still faithful and come and adore in the midst of the darkness. It can just be difficult to hear that invitation from within the church anymore.

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  1. January 8, 2013

    That was never one of my favorites, but I never thought of it as a human or worldly triumph over others. When I think of triumphant, I think of God given triumph over the powers that would hold me back, hold me down, keep me powerless, deny me any real opportunity to express myself. (Apparently, I haven’t felt very triumphal at times in my life and was hoping for a joyful turn around. LOL)

    Interesting perspective.

  2. January 9, 2013

    I think that you were right on with this article. Interesting, clear and precise. Great job Julie.

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