In his recent book, Upside-Down Spirituality, truck-driver theologian Chad Bird recounts how he marks an “X” for each day finished on the calendar that rests on his semi’s dashboard:
At the beginning of the year, that little calendar is in pristine shape. The top part candy-apple red, the twelve sheets of paper cotton white, their edges razor straight. But by the time “Joy to the World” dances through the speakers, that calendar looks utterly joyless. Used up. Worn out. Smudges of dirt and grease from my fingers mar the colors. One corner is peeled up where the sticky back came unglued. The edges of December’s page are torn and bent and haggard. The year is not kind to the calendar. As all too often it is not kind to us.”
Chad’s analogy speaks to each smudge and smear on our calendars: broken relationships, terminal diagnoses, chronic selfishness, failed attempts in placing hope on the brittle shoulders of people or things.
The new year doesn’t roll around for another month, but for many churches, this past Sunday marked the beginning of the church calendar with the season of Advent. In a sea of holiday practices and persuasions, Advent usually takes a back seat to the jolly Santas, family values, serene nativities, and lacquered cheer that is always broadening its reach. It’s quite easy to hide the mangled and creased edges of our year in the festive distractions this time of year.
Considering the holiday season, Advent is backwards in every way. Instead of bright lights and parades, it starts in silence. Instead of giddy expectation, it’s tinged with desperate longing. Instead of frolicking in the snow, it’s aware that the days are getting shorter and darker. For every major tune, it counters in the minor. And yet, instead of a season of optimism, it’s solely dependent on God’s promise of redemption.
What is so startling about Advent is that it always starts in the dark. It starts in the very place hope should not be. And yet, the first action of the church’s calendar is to light a candle that shines in stubborn resistance to the darkness surrounding it. We light the Advent candles to signify that Jesus entered into a pained world and found us clutching our marred calendars and longing for rescue. We light the Advent candles to remember that, as theologian Fleming Rutledge says in her Advent collection, “[He] has turned our cold and frozen hearts into flaming torches of his unquenchable love.” We light the Advent candles in hope, holding tightly to God’s promise that he will return and make all things new – far as the curse is found.
This Advent season, lay your calendars at the feet of Jesus and trust that in this present darkness, for those who fear his name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings (Malachi 4:2).
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