Advent Reflections for the Long, Dark Night

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The sun went down at 4:35 this afternoon.

The sky was bleak, filled with clouds all day, and around 4:00 the gray began to grow darker, eventually bleeding into black. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are entering the season in which our days are short and our nights are long. The light is dim these days, and the shadows are everywhere.

Perhaps you feel it, too?

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I am always struck at the beginning of each Advent by how interconnected our physical world is with the spiritual. I know; there are real, proven, scientific-facts-and-reasons for this time of year, like physics and a tilted orbit.  And yet–I read the prophet Isaiah, and his foretelling of a people walking in great darkness, and then I read the headlines, survey the world around me, and I have to wonder; isn’t this where we find ourselves, right here, right now? In the darkness? In the thick of night? In the mess, and the ugly, and the broken; in the longing, the waiting, the groaning for justice, for redemption? To be made whole?

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A pastor’s wife, I always mark the beginning of Advent, the season which literally means “to come”, on the family calendar that hangs in our kitchen. It’s an important time for our church, our faith, and our life of fellowship that we live out in this community. Tomorrow Advent begins, and we will light the first candle, the Prophet’s Candle, and we will cry out in Hope because Hope is gutsy, you see; it’s not meek, nor demure, but rather it sees the darkness and it sings out anyway. O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

We see the darkness everywhere we turn these days; sometimes we even feel it, heavy on our hearts. There are bombings, and earthquakes, and mass shootings, and cancer, and financial strain, and broken relationships, and and and. The voices of our poor and oppressed call out for justice, and we turn our backs, close our eyes, shut our ears. Lord, have mercy. There is greed, and prejudice, and self-serving living, and we look upon it in approval, and I believe Heaven weeps.

The sun may have gone down at 4:35, but it’s been dark for a while now. We’re in the thick of it here, this long, deep night, and right now it feels a bit like we’re fumbling around blindly, desperate for dawn.

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“Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. … The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. … Its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders.
You will break the oppressor’s rod…” for Hope still lives, and Advent tells us Light is coming, and unto us a child is born (Isaiah 9:1-4,6).

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So this year, I circle Advent on the calendar, and we begin to prepare him room. We light candles against the darkness, and we pay attention to the parts of us that groan and lament. We pray, and we fight fair, and we forgive and tell the truth and we love even when we don’t feel like it. We hope even when it’s hard. We lean into the night, and we look for what we can learn from it, and we listen to the longing, and we sit and wait because we know the Light is on its way.

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Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

2 Comments
  • Terry Goodwin
    December 2, 2017

    The darkness gives us reason for hope, and encourages the faithful to seek His light. Well written Elena.

    • Elena Delhagen
      December 10, 2017

      Thank you so much, Terry! Happy to be seeking the Light with you!

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