Advent season carries with it for me a delicious sadness. It is the portion of the church calendar made for those who are waiting and trying to be patient about it, but there is a slight panic setting in. It is a season for me—a daughter, a sister, and an aunt—where I bake pies for family gatherings and wonder what it all means. It is for me, a little girl who looked (and still looks )out windows, doing everything in my power to will snow to fall on a city that only sees it every few years or so. It is a time to remember all that was promised, but is not yet here.
I have Advent traditions. Playlists made up of melancholy songs by Joni Mitchell or Patty Griffin or Billie Holiday; their voices ask us to listen to the truth. Pie baking. Gift wrapping. But my favorite part of Advent is simply that there is finally a season to hold all of my waiting. All of my yearning. All of my questions. It is a season to hold the absence of God.
Frederick Buechner said in Telling the Truth that, “…the absence of God is not just an idea to conjure with, an emptiness for the preacher to try to furnish, like a house, with chair and sofa, heat and light, to make it livable…The prophets and the psalms all speak of the one who is not there when he is most needed…as the author of Hebrews strips all of us bare by putting it, “They all died without having received what was promised…(Hebrews 11:13).”
Maybe that isn’t your typical advent encouragement, but I don’t like rushing to Christmas. I don’t like the sprint to the 25th of December. I think many stories, and much beauty is missed when we fast forward to presents, cider, and scones. Children open the windows of their Advent calendars anticipating the coming of Christmas; the coming of Christ. One window opens—“Is it here yet?” Another door pops open—“Is it Christmas yet? May we celebrate? It is time?”
In the waiting I can’t help but think of the thousands who waited during that first, long Advent for their Messiah. There must have been a hope that burst out of them, electrifying them at times. But how many days (which were probably most of their days in fact) were more reminiscent of that little girl, staring out the window, and waiting for something so good, and so delicious, that she sat still, hour after hour, searching the sky for a snowflake?
C.S. Lewis has articulated that holy, painful longing better than anyone I have ever known. The first time I read ‘Til We Have Faces, which I think is one of the greatest Advent stories ever told, I shivered when I read this line: “It was when I was happiest that I longed most…The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing…to find the place where all the beauty came from.”
That is what I hold onto during advent. The promise of beauty. The happiness of friends and family and food, and how it draws longing out of me that is acute, shocking, and raw. The feeling that I am still staring out the window, waiting for my snowflake, my Messiah, to arrive.