I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume I’m not the only person pleased to be approaching the end of 2020. It’s been a year filled with pain, with uncertainty, with despair, with fear… the list can go on and on, and none of it is pretty. You may be mourning loved ones who have died, adding a layer of grief to your normally festive preparations for Christmas. There are several people to whom I would usually be mailing gift packages this month. I have no gifts; the people aren’t there anymore to receive them.
It’s certainly the darkest year many of us have ever experienced; and yet I have to share that something happened a couple of weeks ago, something that changed my perspective on this season and its place in this terrible year. I’d been feeling a little “bah, humbug,” about everything, even the beautiful liturgical season of Advent, and hadn’t even bothered setting up my traditional Advent wreath. And then, on the Monday of the first week of Advent, I was sitting and working at my desk when the sun broke through the ever-present clouds outside—for I live on Cape Cod, and our winters are all about storms and wind—and a ray of light came in through the window and singled me out. Dazzling. Blinding. Bright. Warm, even.
And in that moment, in that light, I remembered where we are. In Advent. The season of promise, the season of new beginnings, the season of God-loves-you-so-much. Who was I, to consider my feelings and my experiences this one year more important, more significant than the mystery of the Incarnation? Something much bigger was going on here, something that dwarfed any human experience. It felt as though a spotlight had been turned on me, and a voice inside reminded me: don’t forget, I am with you always.
It wasn’t a road-to-Damascus event; the sun faded and I went back to my writing, seemingly unchanged by the experience. And yet those words kept echoing in the background of my daily tasks and activities. Don’t forget, I am with you always.
And a few days later, when I turned to today’s readings so I could prepare to write this meditation, I was struck by how much they reflected back to me that sudden understanding in that ray of sunlight. Isaiah, it’s not to be forgotten, was speaking to a people who’d had more than one iteration of our 2020 in their lives—and their parents’ lives, and their grandparent’s lives… these were people well-acquainted with fear and uncertainty and grief and despair. And Isaiah says to them, “Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth; let justice spring up!”
It’s a message that was sorely needed by the Israelites… and by us.
But there’s more. Listen as the psalmist adds his bit: “Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.”
Don’t forget, I am with you always. Like the people who first heard Isaiah’s words, we’re also weary, exhausted even, longing for the day when justice, wholeness, and truth are restored, when God’s people can live in peace and security. We long for God’s rule, when death, injustice, and pandemic are no more. Our troubles are real, but they’re not the whole story. These are dark days, yes; but God’s promise is of a light the darkness cannot overcome. “Near indeed is his salvation.”
A Christmas movie you may be familiar with is How The Grinch Stole Christmas. In the story, the love and witness of a little girl causes the evil Grinch’s heart to swell, and he comes to understand the Christmas spirit as love and generosity and joy. That shaft of sunlight illuminated more than my desk; it illuminated my heart, and reminded me of something I’ve been forgetting, immersed as I’ve been in the dread and depression that I’ve felt shrouding the world. The illumination? That we are children of the light. St. Paul himself told us: “Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Eph. 5:8-9).
Today’s Gospel underlines the point: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” Advent isn’t a season that tells us everything is fine; Advent tells us that the world is indeed in disarray. There is no escaping that reality; we wouldn’t need redemption otherwise. But Advent also tells us the rest of the story: God sees that disarray—and has willingly entered it, sent his Son to walk with us through it. To make us children of the light. Don’t forget, I am with you always.
Our world is broken; we are broken. We are longing for health. We are longing for justice. We are longing for wholeness. God knows. And this Advent, as every Advent, he walks beside us through our brokenness, and allows a ray of sunlight to dazzle us as he reveals exactly what we’ve been longing for: nothing less than the Savior of the world.
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.
Feature Image Credit: Carina, https://unsplash.com/photos/CUaLxtP9nVg