Advent is a counterintuitive season. It ends with joy joy – joy to the world, joy beyond our ability to fathom it. At the end of Advent comes Christmas, when we celebrate the Light of the World entering into our darkness, the Prince of Peace overcoming our violence, the King of Kings overthrowing our injustice.
On Christmas, we will celebrate the Good News that God has become one of us in order to save us, news which means that we are never alone. It is joy and celebration so big that it takes an army of angels singing a hallelujah chorus to do it justice.
Advent ends with unspeakable joy – with God’s light shining for all the world to see. But it begins in the dark. Each year, Advent begins not with angels singing glad tidings, not with shepherds in the fields receiving good news, not with Mary or Joseph being told of the birth of a special child. Instead, Advent begins with a voice calling out in the wilderness, with prophets crying out for change, and with those who are hurting raising their voices in lament.
Each year on the first Sunday of Advent, we begin with words from Jesus and the prophets telling us that all is not right with the world. There is brokenness all around us and there is brokenness within us. There is dysfunction within society and within our families. There is fear, war, violence, hatred, bigotry, and despair. We worry over job loss, financial challenges, broken relationships, disease, and more. We worry over the future. We worry over the stress of our lives. We aren’t sure whether we can hold it all together.
Advent begins by honestly naming all of this. Advent begins by naming the suffering around us. Advent begins by looking at the brokenness in our world. Advent begins by talking honestly about the things that are wrong and need to be set right. Advent, in other words, begins in the dark
And why? Because naming the darkness is an important part of helping us recognize how much we need the light. Naming how broken this world sometimes feels – and how powerless we sometimes are to do anything about it – helps us recognize that we need help to fix it.
Advent is honest about how much help we need. Advent is honest about how broken this world sometimes is. But it doesn’t leave us with the brokenness. It doesn’t leave us sitting in the dark. Because the promise of advent – the reason that this is a season of Hope – is that we are not alone in the dark. We do not have to fix things on our own. Because God has become one of us. The joy of Christmas is the culmination of the story that begins in Advent. Christmas is the answer to the honest questions Advent asks us.
We can be honest about the things that hurt because we know we have been given a healer. We can be honest about the things that are broken because we know that Jesus Christ has been sent to fix things. We can be honest about the darkness because we know that God’s light – the light of Jesus Christ, the light of love – shines even in the darkness, and that the darkness cannot overcome it.
So, today, we are honest about all that is wrong, and we cry out for God to make it right. And the Good News – the hope of this season – is that we know how the story ends. We know that Christmas has come. We know that God is with us, that we are not alone, that God wins.
Advent begins in the dark, but it ends in the overwhelming brilliance of God’s light.