This past Sunday, my two little nieces performed in their church Christmas pageant. I love to watch Christmas pageants and so few churches do them anymore (for good reason: that amount of work is no joke). One little red-haired lamb and one angel with tinsel-trimmed wings stole the show for me. But our littlest girl isn’t known for her meek and quiet spirit: she’s a ferocious mover-and-shaker, none of this silent night, holy night business for her. So I found myself out in the lobby, watching Christmas through a glass partition. When she settled down into a calm heart and listening ears again, we sneaked into the back of the darkened room to finish watching. The children sang at the top of their lungs, beautiful in their simple costumes, surrounded by hay bales and iPhone screens, and in that moment, the grief of longing nearly overwhelmed me.

Advent simply means “coming” – so for me, it is about the waiting. When people talk about “living in the tension” I think of Advent. It’s the time when we prepare to celebrate his birth and we also acknowledge that we are waiting here still for every tear to be wiped away. I think of the waiting for the Christ child, yes, and I think of the still-waiting for all things to be made right, for our longing for Shalom.

Would we be so filled with joy at his arrival if we weren’t so filled with longing already?

If Christmas is for the joy, then Advent is for the longing. As I learned in particular through our lost babies, one after another after another, the joy born out of suffering and longing is more beautiful for its very complexity. The joy doesn’t erase the longing and the sadness that came before but it does redeem it, it may even stain backwards changing how we look at those days or years. But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

I’m not one for crafts for Advent, I admit. I’m rather simple because I know that Advent is more for me than for little ones, and that’s okay. Light the candles, say the prayers, read the Scriptures, let them learn to sit in that quiet tension, we are preparing for the joy that comes only after the longing.

I’m waiting for all things to be made right.

I’ll be honest, I’m not feeling the joy much these days. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to be okay with the sadness that rises, with the frustration of a broken world, with longings still unfulfilled, with the profound ache in my human heart for all things to be restored, to be redeemed, to be whole. I’m learning to turn towards the third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow.

People I love are struggling financially or emotionally or spiritually: real honest pain. I’m frustrated with divisions in the Church, with conversations that miss the point. I feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. A hurricane in the Philippines slipped from my consciousness too quickly. My friend’s son is sick, no one knows what to do.  My other friend’s little nephew is in hospice. There is nothing more wrong than a child who suffers and a parent who feels helpless to make it stop – I need my Saviour who suffers with us, my God who weeps, who longs to gather us to himself as a mother hen gathers her chicks.

Advent has become more important to me as I’ve gotten older. When I was young, I couldn’t understand this emphasis on waiting – let’s get to the Christmas joy! Now that I have wept, now that I have grieved, now that I have lost, now that I have learned to hold space with and for the ones who are hurting, now I have a place for Advent. Now that I have fallen in step with the man from Nazareth, I want to walk where he walked into the brokenness of this life, and see the Kingdom of God at hand. Now that I have learned how much I need him, I have learned to watch for him.

Advent is perhaps for the ones who know longing.

So during the Christmas pageant, the tears were sliding down my face as the beautiful children sang their innocent Christmas songs, they were illuminated angels to my eyes, and I was standing on the edges in the darkness in my sadness.

“Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”

Evelynn began to dance. She raised her hands over her head, and twirled slowly, watching her hands move in the darkness. She sang along, off key without words but quietly now. I picked her up and crushed her to my breast. She wrapped her pudgy arms around my neck, “my mumma” she said.  I began to turn slowly with her in my arms, swaying, both of us quietly singing a little off-key. I buried my face into her ringlets and held on.

Sometimes the only thing left to do is simply hold on to each other and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.

Marantha.

 

In which this is a Christmas Gift Guide to Empower Women
In which we make room for the small joys
thank you for sharing...
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  • Aysha

    Wow. So beautifully expressed Sarah. There is something very profound in the waiting, and expecting.. a comforting silence in the midst of the noise of a hurting world.

  • Daniela

    Sarah, this is stunning. Thank you for bringing this picture into focus for me. I don’t think I need to tell you I can get a little Christmas nuts. Advent does bring waiting and longing. I always feel like I am standing on the doorstep of a massive miracle that I can’t understand or grasp. Not growing up in church, I really believed advent was about a chocolate calendar, counting down to that big one on the 24th. I didn’t care that the chocolate tasted like wax. This year, it’s meaning started to stir in me, I am not sure why it took so many years for this to happen for me. THIS brought clarity to what I have been grasping at. I love you and your wonderful brain, soul and heart.

    • I love you and your Christmas self. I was raving about that Advent calendar and the flocked tree for an entire day afterwards. And yes, it does feel like that – love how you put that “standing on the doorstep of a massive miracle that I can’t understand or grasp.” So good.

  • oh this

  • Kim Waggoner

    Thank you. I’m sitting here at the beginning of yet another Advent still longing. Facing more loss. And as painful as it is, it strikes me in this moment as sweet that God would ordain this time for those of us who wait and long and sometimes manage to hope. It’s almost as if I can settle in and wrap the longing around me, allow myself to feel the darkness, to breathe a little bit at all in the unbearable tension of “Not Yet.” It awakens my imagination to a God who understands longing too. This was beautiful, Sarah. Thanks.

    • That is so true, Kim, thank you for sharing this. Good words.

  • Blubbering into my lunch because of this post? Yes I am, Sarah Bessey. Thank you for this.

    • Thanks, Bethany. Glad we can walk with each other in this.

  • Brittany Williamson

    Beauty.

  • “But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.” Oh, yes.

    Sarah, dear one, it was a precious thing, seeing you in the flesh, eye to eye, for your heart beats loud and wild. And here, with words? it roars. This post, thank you for it. It truly took my breath and held it still. xo

    • So loved meeting you, Michaela – thanks for coming all that way! It was an honour to spend a bit of time with you.

  • –> “Where are you?” I whispered to heaven. “The weary world is still waiting.”

    Oh this. This.

    I’m also in this weary place. Weary from standing in the tension. *sigh*

    But I wait….

    xoxo

    • You’ve been standing in some serious tension these past couple of weeks. Praying for you as you “re-enter” life as it is here.

  • So along these lines I’ve listened to every imaginable version of “Oh come oh come Emmanuel” today. My favorite is an old version from our church that starts with a cry of longing, throaty and desperate. “Oh come oh come emmanuel… we mourn in exile.”

  • Jerusalem Greer

    This exactly.

  • Holding the tears and the ache with you, friend. A friend’s husband died yesterday, another friend is facing her first Christmas without her spouse who she lost earlier this year, and a little girl her first Christmas without her daddy. I ache in the waiting to conceive, and it all feels so much this year. Thank you for your words and grace and wisdom.

    • It does feel like so much and too much. Praying with and for you, Tara. xo

  • “Dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.” I really like that image. Thanks for sharing.

  • meganfriedokra

    Tears.

  • Our sermon this past Sunday was about the transitions we face in life, such as the transition into parenthood or from college to a day job, are particularly stressful, difficult times. We typically mitigate that stress by throwing parties and joining together, but Mary’s unique situation prevented her from joining with others. So when she found out that Elizabeth had a miracle child of her own, it’s no wonder that she rushed off to embrace Elizabeth. Who else would understand? Who else would wait in the uncertainty with her? That story took on a whole new life for me. Don’t we all need someone to wait with us who “gets it”?

  • Amanda M.

    Yes. I am feeling the waiting, the longing more this year than ever before. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

  • Beautiful, beautiful. As I press into the wait and the ache of this season, I’m going to picture Ever singing and dancing.

    • I know, I had the same thought. I just wanted to remember it, her spinning quietly in the darkness with the light nearby.

  • emilysophia

    Beautiful, wonderful words. 🙂

  • Guest

    In which I believe just a little bit more than yesterday & I fell less alone

  • Nan

    In which I believe just a little bit more than yesterday & I am less alone

  • Rebecca

    Yes. Yes.

    Beautiful.

  • Patrice Wassmann

    Beautiful.

  • The church I grew up in never had much to do with Advent, particularly. I didn’t grow up with the lead-up to Christmas being a particularly important time. As I read posts like this and, actually, several others in blogs I’ve begun to read, I wish I HAD grown up with Advent. This is beautiful, Sarah. Well said.

    Excited also to say that I was FINALLY able to snag a copy of your book at a bookstore in Asheville, NC – so excited to read it!

    • I didn’t grow up with it either, Katie. I only “discovered” the traditions of the Church in my mid-to-late-twenties. So this will be my tenth year with Advent and it is a rich season for me, even in the discomfort. And thanks for reading the book! Look forward to hearing what you think about it.

      • I feel like I’m kind of in that place, too – I’m 27 and I haven’t attended church regularly since I was around 12 or 13, but I keep feeling this absolute longing to go and be a part of church again. I know the Presbyterian church I’ve attended off and on lately does some Advent stuff, so maybe I can kind of ease into it 🙂

  • Noel Carlson

    Oh, thank you. I am feeling much sensitivity and tenderness in the spirit realm and have had lots of tears. This time of already/not yet is full of joy and, at the same time, such tragic heartache. Thank you for putting these thoughts into words so beautifully. My heart echoes yours.

  • The advent reflection I was longing for…

  • KimberlyCoyle

    Oh, Sarah. This is so achingly beautiful. Even after a lifetime in the church, I’ve never celebrated advent, and this year I’m rethinking my Christmas joy as I grieve some difficult situations. Maybe I can hold both the grief and the joy.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for this. The weariness and the waiting feel particularly acute for me this year.

  • Jen

    This ministered to me so deeply…thank you for your perspective and grace.

  • Kathryn

    So beautifully written. The image of you and that sweet baby dancing and singing slightly off key is painted in my mind. For some reason this year (as I should be every day), I am more mindful of those that experience so much pain and loneliness during the holiday season and my heart aches for those that are grieving and lonely. My prayers are going out for the weary, and praying that we can all find some joy in the waiting.

  • Hannah Novak

    So good.

  • MennoMama

    Thank you for this Sarah. I am overwhelmed with ache and grief this Advent season. My beautiful little girl was born still born at full-term at the beginning of Sept. and all that I had hoped and longed for is not to be. I am a pastor and just returned to work full-time this past Sunday–the first Sunday of Advent. I continue to grapple with what it means to preach in the midst of loss and grief, in the midst of longing and yearning, to willingly hold onto the dark while leaning towards the Light. Thank you for your beautiful words that shine Light into this dark place. Come, Lord Jesus.

    • pastordt

      Oh, oh, oh. My love and prayers to you, dear mama. Come, indeed.

  • thelifeartist

    I have said and heard those three little words countless times: “where are you?”, but NEVER have they been so full of ache. I could feel it like I was inside your skin, which sometimes feels a lot like being inside my own. <3

  • Lizzie Goldsmith

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Sarah. I read yours and Cara Strickland’s (http://caramichelestrickland.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/adventure/) posts on Advent today, and they were both oh-so-beautiful and oh-so-real. I host a night radio program, and I’ve been trying to observe Advent on the air in an authentic way, and your posts arrived in my inbox at just the perfect time. Trying to encourage others to slow down and rest and wait and be … and also to take my own advice, which is probably the hardest thing.

  • pastordt

    Oh, amen. I think there was some sort of strange Spirit connection on the west coast today, cuz my ADF post was a tiny bit similar. Not nearly so poignant but these truths are so real and too often, so neglected. Thank you for these words, Sarah. And for your tears.

  • So beautiful, Sarah… “Where are you? The weary world is waiting.” Yes…. Oh how I long for his return and oh how my heart grows and expands in that longing and maybe that’s the point, the purpose and gift in the waiting… a heart that is ever more in love and ever more his.

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  • Rach

    Sarah, I’m sorry for the sadness you are feeling, for all the heartbreaking things that are happening to people that you love. Thankyou for reaching into yourself and pouring out these words in the midst of your own struggles, I hope that you knew some comfort in the writing, just as so many have been comforted in the reading. Thank you.

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  • Liz

    This is everything I have felt and never had the words to put with it. Thank you for expressing so well what I never could.

  • Emily Wierenga

    this is beautiful, sarah. i’m aching too. longing for home.

  • Beautiful, lyrical writing, Sarah, as always!

  • theblahblahblahger

    I really really hope this is true: But the joy is made more real, richer and deeper perhaps, because we longed for it with all our hearts for so many days.

  • Alex

    I think that advent is only symbolic and we really don’t get much from lighting candles.

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  • Beautiful Sarah. I’m with you in the ache of the waiting, and the true joy of the coming. Thanks for reminding me of the blessing of the waiting, and what really matters.

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  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    Always always lovely. Thanks, Sarah.

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  • Lindsey Paulson

    Oh what a beautiful post. I cried during Christmas Eve Service with my best friend–I am a doctor and she is a nurse–we have lost 3 children in our hospital this month (including one on Christmas Eve) and I was having trouble finding joy that night. As in Jesus Feminist, you have put words to my thoughts.

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