The Hope of Advent

One of my favorite Christmas traditions has always been Christmas Eve candlelight services. Singing carols late into the darkness of the evening, watching the light of one small candle spread through a crowd, the glow of candlelight increasing as it is shared with each member holding a candle of their own. In these moments the words at the beginning of John’s gospel often come to mind:  

In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Every year, these actions and words intertwine and fill my heart with hope. Hope for a world full of light rather than darkness. I am reminded that the light is not overcome by the darkness, that the light will continue to shine. This light brings life to all people.

I think this year I need this reminder more than ever. I have felt so many times throughout the year that the darkness was winning, unsure of how to bring hope and healing in a world so incredibly broken and divided. Especially now, in the midst of all the news revolving around the migrant caravan and the escalating tensions at the U.S./Mexico border, I need the hope of advent – of Christ entering into our brokenness and bringing life and light for all people.

***

About 6 months ago, I had the incredible opportunity to visit the borderland community of San Diego/Tijuana. Guided by local leaders and peacemakers on both sides of the border, I was immersed into the experiences of those living in this commingled area – citizens of both the United States and Mexico, border agents, migrants, and dreamers.

One of the things that I was most struck by was sitting outside the border on our first day and listening to the story of a local ministry leader who participated in an event called La Posada.¹

The word posada literally translates to hotel or inn. From my understanding, a Posada journey is a Mexican Christmas tradition where a community re-enacts the story of Mary and Joseph as they search for a lodging in Bethlehem. At the heart of this journey is the lingering question of “Is there room?” or “Will you welcome me in?”

Thinking about this ritual journey taking place at the U.S./Mexico border, I was struck with how poignant these questions ring in a space where there is so much tension, disagreement, and confusion as to where people belong.

This week, I was reminded of my borderland experience and these questions echoed in the back of my mind. Is there room? Will you welcome me in?

The news has been flooded with stories about the migrant caravan that has finally arrived in Tijuana. And once again the United States has had the challenge of determining what to do. How are we to manage such a flood of people seeking refuge in our country?  How are we to address the situation as a nation? And for some, as Christians, how are we to respond?

Is there room? Will you welcome me in?

These words echo in my ears and I am left unsettled, uncertain of what my place is in all of this.

***

This week I attended a evening vigil in downtown Santa Barbara to show support for our local immigrant community.² I didn’t really know what to expect, but in light of all the recent news I felt compelled to show up. As we moved onto State Street, candles and flyers in hand, we stood quietly, waiting for the chance to talk with passersby.  Unfortunately it was a bit rainy and not many people seemed to be out. In the back of my mind I began to wonder why I was even there. What value or purpose did our actions hold?

But something inside me said Keep showing up. Faithful presence matters.

I have no way to quantify the impact of the vigil, but I am trying to let that thought sink in – Faithful presence matters. Perhaps this wasn’t some grand event that drew a lot of attention, but we were a visible presence on State Street. We were seen. And although I struggled to see the significance of this humble event, I am beginning to realize that perhaps just showing up is what mattered most. Coming alongside our immigrant neighbors to let them know that they are seen, supported, and loved.

***

The Advent season is beginning and for once I think I am wrestling with the depth and significance of this season. Preparing our hearts and waiting in anticipation of Christmas, is not as simple or even as joyous as I thought.

This year, as the posada continues to echo in my mind, there is a deep sense of longing and uncertainty.

This longing, I believe is actually central to the spirit of Advent. The waiting, the anticipation and expectation, the uncertain hope for what is to come. Longing for Christ and a world made new. Hope is needed most in the midst of despair.

And then there’s the humble birth of Christ. A seemingly insignificant birth that took place in a stable, And yet, this is the moment when the Divine entered into our broken world. I am marveled by the incarnation, the Holy showing up in the ordinary.

This shows me that perhaps the greatest things happen in the simplest ways. That sometimes all you can do is show up and that a single candle can actually make a difference. So even on the days when I feel like the darkness is winning, I must remember:  

Keep showing up. Faithful presence matters. The light shines brighter in the darkness.

– C


¹ The Global Immersion Project has planned a Day of Cross-Border Solidarity that will include participation in a bi-national Posada journey on December 15, 2018. For more information, please visit: http://globalimmerse.org/how-we-train/caravan/

² For more information on Love Your Neighbor Weekend please visit: https://loveyourneighborsb.org/

 

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