We are now beginning the season of Advent, the coming of messiah Jesus into our world 2,000 years ago and our personal preparation to receive the spirit of Christ into our lives today. The world into which Jesus was born was a dark one. Despite the romantic embellishment of our Christmas story, the Christ child was born in a bed of dirty straw and animal feces and his people suffered under the heavy hand of the empire. The Jewish people whose fortunes had been dashed so many times, waited hesitantly for a messiah to inaugurate a new world order of peace and justice. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Jesus was born in the wilderness.
Many, if not all of us, go through “wilderness” times in our lives. There are times when we may feel bereft of hope, alone and even spiritually bankrupt. During Christmas these feelings of loneliness, despair and emotional pain seem to be magnified in our lives. The beauty of Christmas is that in the midst of the wilderness there often come little glimpses of hope and renewal that remind us that all is not lost and that eventually the darkness gives way to the light. I recently read a poignant testimonial which reminded me of this advent reality:
“This trip back was a sort of spiritual pilgrimage. A landscape of grief and disappointment had made my life flat and joyless. God seemed as cold and remote as the mountains we were driving through. My throat was too dry for prayer. I was hoping this trip would help take away some of the sad longing I felt.
We were riding on a lonely stretch of road with no gas stations or stores and not even another car. The road has been gradually ascending for several miles, and my ears were popping. The tundra spread out for miles. Nameless mountains rose up in the distance. The trees had disappeared-winters were too cold and the winds too fierce for them to live.
It hadn’t been so lonely to me when I was younger. I was raised on Davey Crockett and Wagon Train and Little House on the Prairie, and I loved stoking the stove with split logs and sitting by the light of the kerosene lamp, It was novel to plug in the oil pan heater on the Jeep every night so the motor oil wouldn’t turn to Jell-O.
Life seemed all opportunity; I could be a waitress or a college professor or a poet. My grandparents, my parent and my sister were all alive. I imagined I’d have a big family that would sit around a long table at Thanksgivings.
Now my mother had been gone ten years. My dad, sister, aunts, uncles and many friends were dead too. I had regrets. I never became a waitress, poet or college professor. I left Alaska and ended up in a middle –sized city in Iowa. I didn’t have a big family, and my children lived far away. The past year my husband and I had eaten Thanksgiving dinner at a Perkins restaurant.
Suddenly I saw a small spruce tree. From our vehicle it looked about two feet high. I don’t know how the tree got there or how it had managed to survive, but there it was, a spike of green in an arctic desert. I stared at it, turning in my seat to keep it in sight. Then a clump of four or five trees appeared, clinging together in what must have been a warmer spot of ground. An old spruce shoulder leaned sideways onto a hearty tree as if the old one was putting its head on the younger one’s shoulder.
A few miles further on, several families of black spruce stood close together as if posing for a family picture. Now the evergreens filled the slopes with a deep green-descendants of other spruce and fir trees. I felt a hopeful quickening. I was surrounded by kinfolks. I took a breath and inhaled a prayer.”
Excerpt from The Christian Century, Nov. 2017
As we enter the season of Advent, let the waiting begin with anticipation and any measure of hope we can muster up. Let us look for those little signs of new life and new light, even in the midst of our pain, brokenness and disappointment…… even in our wilderness times.