Thursday, December 15, 2005

looking to and fro

I’m at a place in life in which major changes begin to take place. Maybe I’ve been there for a few years, but as the years march on, the changes pile up and they are noticed at important times when I am made to remember the way things were before the changes began to happen.
For many people, holidays are the most painful times of the year. Loss, change, associated events, all get marked by holidays that magnify the pain. Warm memories are marred by the lost opportunity to make more warm memories. Loneliness replaces closeness and gathering when those who used to be among the gathered are no longer around.
Many people feel the scars more deeply during holidays. Most people, by a certain age will feel loss and pain associated with an event or season that used to bring the opposite emotion. We are forced to look beyond what we thought were our sources of happiness, and we begin to find that we’ve been dependent on too small a sphere. Our gaze is forced outward and upward and we see outside ourselves and beyond our contexts to find that which never changes.

It is a hard theology to swallow that says joy and pain can exist side by side or even superimposed. It is an even harder one to swallow that says they have to exist side by side, that they are inseparable. But we follow one who for the joy set before him endured the cross. We are invited to take up our cross and follow. We are asked to identify with his suffering so that we can identify with his joy. Just as his suffering flows over into our lives, through him, our comfort overflows.
I know, these thoughts can sound like happy sentences that just don’t hit home. Empty words spoken from a nominal friend who doesn’t understand what you’re going through. But they are real. Probably have to be discovered, rather than heard. Found in desperation, for Christ came for the desperate. Desperation grows over time. It’s built upon disappointment and loss and lonely groping for relief, so that you have nowhere to look but up. And when you do, you find the darkness pierced by a star, the silence broken by a song, the chill warded off by swaddling clothes, and the loneliness squelched by an invitation.
Perhaps it requires age to get to a place where you can truly discover the meaning of the baby born in stable in the middle of the night in a tiny town in nowhere. Folks had waited forever for him to arrive. Silence. Darkness. Pain. Oppression. An old man waited around in the temple for him to show up - worn out, discouraged, but hoping in a promise. Perhaps we can’t quite grasp the long, dark, quiet years before hope arrived until we have that context for the arrival in our own lives. Oh we can appreciate the love, can share the joy, believe the promise – but the longer we persevere and the deeper we find ourselves in the stuff of living, the deeper it means. Our longing grows deeper, our waiting becomes active. We don’t peer out the window at the sky, but sit under the stars waiting for the light to shine. We don’t watch the bend in the road, but run ahead to see who is coming.
I’ve dealt with trying to disassociate pain with Christmas to learn to experience the joy without the encumbrance of life. But I’m beginning to realize that there is no joy in Christmas without knowledge of the pain it overcomes. There is no advent without encumbrance. Jesus put on flesh to live with encumbrance. He had to come and get us.

Every year my waiting is pronounced a bit more than last. This year is no different. Actively waiting. Longing for others to wait with me. Ponder, pray, sit, sing, gather and watch. Tonight, in my ponderings, in my looking forward, I’ve looked back as well. I gathered thoughts that I’ve written around advent over the past three years, and have posted them in a slightly accessible way. If you’re interested at all in hearing what I’ve dealt with at the coming of Christmas in recent years, you can find more thoughts here.