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. I am learning it again in these days in particular when so many are grieving and angry, sad and wounded from the pain of living in this world as it stands right now. 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. This year, as a family, we’re reading through Ann Voskamp’s new book, “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift,” too.

We begin tomorrow night with the entire worldwide Church, we’re waiting together.

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

Aren’t we all?

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 a third way: the one that holds both the joy and the sorrow, the one that picks up a small stone to move the mountain in small acts of faithfulness. Advent is one small stone.

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 often feel distracted and fragmented, caught in the thicket of other people’s priorities and pet-issues and dysfunctions. Ferguson. Aboriginal women in Canada who are targeted for abuse and attacks in such devastating numbers. Syria. Ebola in west Africa. Shooting in our capital city of Ottawa, right in the heart of our government. One of our oldest and best friends lost his beautiful wife to cancer this year, it’s his first Christmas alone with their two little girls.

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 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, pray, and dance in the darkness, waiting for the light.


image credit; updated from the archives

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  • Thank you so much Sarah. At this time last year, we had just said goodbye to our second babe that we will not meet this side of heaven. Advent was completely different for me last year, despite the celebration of life in the two glorious little people God has blessed us with. I held such a deep longing for Christ, his wholeness and an understanding in our weariness.

    As I sit now, 30 weeks pregnant, I feel that the season of longing and waiting for Christ is more powerful than ever. Thank you for your words that often express pieces of my heart that I am not so able to convey.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Oh, Sarah, your words echo my own heart these days….it’s just a heaviness and a sort of sigh that does not meet with the loud and illusory joy that is supposed to also be there this time of year. Praise God for that longing. Praise God for the little ones. Praise God for the light that breaks through when we move a small stone. Praise God. Period.
    I’m reading your words as tears well and my heart is full.

  • I feel this. I’m facing my first Grown Up Christmas this year. I’ll be 25, with tragedy and cancer and heartache under my belt. I want to soak up every moment of waiting this year. I’m all about the longing. Thank you for putting this to words for me.

  • Missy
  • Oh lovely, thank you.
    I feel most at home in Advent in some ways. I feel that the tug of pain and unfulfilled hope fit better here than in other times of the year. I am waiting here, and longing.

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  • Rea

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

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  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    I live near Ferguson and Ferguson is everywhere. Protests and unrest are growing and festering. We live in fear and longing. I know that Christ is the only answer, and He seems so far away–farther than Christmas. Thank you for your encouragement to living midst tension, for your encouragement to dance in the midst of it.

  • There are tears in my eyes that I can’t articulate. We start reading that book tomorrow, too, and it will be my first experience with Advent (beyond the candles and readings every year at church) since my mother’s homemade ornaments from my childhood, almost twenty years ago, now. This season is so hard…I always feel the outsider, joyful and grateful for the miracle of His birth and the remembrance with family, but quiet and introspective (and often filled with longings I can’t voice) amid happy, fluffy traditions that don’t feed my soul and leave me tired and overwhelmed. I find myself on autopilot this year.

  • Katie

    We just learned that we are having a miscarriage, my first after 3 healthy pregnancies, and I am grateful for the timing as it lines up with advent. I am so sad and yet hold hope and feel Jesus by me. I love this piece. Thank you for sharing.

  • gwally

    Such a deep and meaningful reflection on Advent, Sarah! Thank you for this wonderful gift – well, except for the runny mascara that will have to be removed before I leave the house 🙂 I experienced the loss of a little one at 20 weeks gestation and I think that really does impact our understanding of longing. Blessings on you and your family this season. We are thankful for you!

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  • Hannah Schaefer

    This. You have put words to my ache. Thank you.

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  • This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I have this ache in my heart, and have been filled with anything but joy lately. I am hoping that as I intentional set my heart towards Him in the waiting that I will see Him in the waiting.

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  • Amber

    So beautiful.

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  • pastordt

    Indeed. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Thanks you, Sarah.

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  • Wow. It’s as if these words came from my own heart. Oh I know the ache of longing. An adoption journey that has taken four years so far and included a foster son whom we weren’t able to keep still has no end in sight. But Emmanuel is coming. He’s all sufficient. And you’re right—knowing this pain makes our joy that much richer.

  • O, Sarah. This is stunning friend. You are amazing at putting words to feelings I can’t articulate.

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

    I do my best holding onto a friend who is on year 6 surviving OC (which has a 5-year survival average). We dance and laugh in the darkness. We wait for the light. We pray that the light will be healing and that the chemo does what it is targeted to do. We pray that the light will be a day without pain: a day with enough energy to spend a few hours outside the house for coffee, for lunch, for happy hour. A beer or two at noon? Why not! Dance on dear sister. I am right there with you.

    And somewhere deep within us we know. We know that our destination is a place in which the Light has conquered all darkness. We know. We know. We just don’t know when. So we hold each other and dance while we wait.

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  • Kris

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

    My heart stopped at these truth filled words. So many people waiting for the new and glorious morn….

  • Danielle Duvauchelle

    As a newer Christian this is probably the first year I am trying to soak in advent. I am realizing more and more that to find the bursting light of joy I first must walk through the small dark and damp tunnel of waiting. I cannot move quickly or I will slip and fall. So I wade in the shallow water, slowly making my way to the light. This is painfully difficult for me, but today your words helped me appreciate this soaking. Thank you.

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  • Tara Beth Leach

    Thank you, Sarah. As always, beautifully written.

  • dawnette scott

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

    Yes. This. Yes…. Thank you, Sarah.

  • Grammy

    Yes, Lord Jesus, come.

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