Blue Christmas…reflecting on living between the advents
It is hard to admit because it feels shameful to be sad, but the fact of the matter is that this season is not easy for me. I guess I feel guilty and embarrassed that I can only outwardly appear to be composed and at peace when inwardly I feel that my grief is so deep and if people knew that about me they might consider it a lack of faith. The reality is that the holidays magnify my struggle to trust and lean into God’s grace and still feel such devastating loss. I am so happy when it is all over, even though it is already my fifth Christmas without Jim. It gets even more difficult now that my kids are grown and this will be my “last” one with Emily still at home. I am aware that Jesus is in my grief and that he too grieved even when he knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. I know that my grief is what it is and is real ; I am comforted that Jesus knows my heart and that losing my life partner is the hardest thing I have yet gone through in my life. Mike Erre said at the Blue Christmas service that we can grieve and have hope at the same time and that grief is NOT the opposite of faith. “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thess. 4:13)” What does it mean to grieve with hope? Someone once used the analogy that even though we cannot see beyond the headlights and it is still dark where we travel we know the road goes on. Caitlyn Baird said that our longings for what might have been, for what we lost and for a happy ending are actually echoes of hope. Wow! I like that.
All that is true, but I/we also live in the now and the not yet. The kingdom has come with Christ proclaiming His kingship but is also still waiting to be fully realized. Because of that people still get sick and die, relationships fracture and we experience loss. Christians are not eager to make room for lament or for disappointment especially at the holidays. And most of us are so impatient in our instant self-absorbed lives that waiting is hard, if not impossible to bear. When I was a kid it was hard to wait for Christmas day. (In fact I often peeked because I couldn’t move the day closer). Then I became a grown up and there was an endless list of things to do and the holidays came too fast. I went from not wanting to wait to not being prepared. Even when I know that it is coming (and it is on the same date every year), and I have even lowered my expectations and reduced my plans it still requires a huge amount of focus and preparation to get ready for Christmas.
The second advent of Jesus will be much different than the first. He will return but not as a helpless, little infant; He will return as King of kings and Lord of lords in all his glory, majesty and power. And this arrival will be one that no person, living or dead will miss. It will be as Paul describes, “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” For the time being, however, we find ourselves in a rather strange place–as we wait for the second advent we are in an in-between place. Here we are after the first advent but before the second advent. We are in-between the two: Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ return. And it has been hundreds of years of waiting.
Both waiting and being ready for the “not yet”, aka the second advent, are expectations for the believer. Getting ready and staying ready while waiting are a challenge. It is even harder because the date of the second coming is a random date out in the future and that almost makes it easy to put off getting ready. The sense of urgency and excitement are difficult to maintain during the in-between times of life. I think about the in-between times of my life and the feelings I have while I have waited and prepared.
I have been excited and nervous waiting for the birth of my children.
I have been anxious and afraid waiting to get the results of Jim’s biopsy.
I have been impatient waiting in long lines or for a package to come in the snail mail.
I have been defeated, discouraged and tired waiting for things to change like weight loss or enough money saved to pay off a bill.
I remember when I was in my teens, I always thought Jesus would return before I was 25. But 25 came and went. Okay, he’ll be back before I am 30. 30 slipped by. All right, certainly, he will show up before I turn 40, nothing. Here I am in my 50’s and I sometimes wonder if he’ll return during my lifetime. I guess you could say my sense of expectancy has diminished. Nevertheless, I still need to be ready. I don’t want to be unprepared when Jesus arrives.
I guess it really is good news that just like Jesus grieved along with Mary and Martha, he waits with us in the in-between place; the “not yet” affects the Godhead too. God waits. Expectantly. Hopefully. Wanting none to perish. Peter tells us that it is not that God is waiting to send Jesus when the most people are not ready. No, he waits because he wants more people to be ready.
So, I do know how to get ready for the second advent is by coming to that place of repentance, by faith embracing Jesus Christ as the Son of God and committing to living for him. And the Bible also outlines how to stay ready. Peter instructs us to live “holy and godly lives,” which is first and foremost about relationship that informs and transforms all our other relationships. I think it is interesting that just following the celebration of the first coming we are reminded to continually prepare and stay ready for the second coming by setting new goals and plans to further our relationship with Christ.
So I wait expectantly and daily choosing to lean into his grace the in-between place of life with echoes of hope ringing down the hallways of time. And though the headlights don’t shine to the end of the journey I am confident it is there. Heaven. Maranatha!