Elizabeth was barren. At least somewhat wealthy, respected, and mature, Elizabeth had most of the things for which we tend to strive. But, she was missing the one thing that mattered most to her. She was unable to have a child, and everyone knew it. You have to imagine that she sat and wondered why. I haven’t done anything wrong, why is God doing this or why did/does God allow this to happen? Why me? Why can’t I have a child? Is there any meaning in this? Why is God so absent in this one place in my life?
Advent is the time where we prepare for the presence of God among us.
Most of the year we put forth the effort to see that God is with us everywhere, all the time, trying to see God in every moment no matter what may be going on. Advent is interesting because if it is a time where we are preparing for God to enter our world, then that means that it is the one time where we intentionally don’t recognize God’s presence here and now. In some ways Advent is where we experience God’s absence. It’s the one place where God isn’t because God hasn’t entered yet, we’re preparing for that.
But the simple fact of the matter is that this absence is what we struggle with all year long. In the loss of a job, lack of direction, horrible breakup, tragic events, and terrifying diagnosis we sit and wonder, “Where is God in this?” At Advent we get the opportunity to be honest, to leave the toxic habit of trying to pretend we have a faith we don’t have, and to recognize that there are places in our lives where God doesn’t seem to be at work.
But, we also get the opportunity to hope.
Liz’s husband was a priest. Zacheriah’s rotation finally came and he got his once in a lifetime opportunity to serve in the temple, to go in and burn incense. An angel appears to Zach, tells him he is going to have a son, and when he emerges he is unable to speak. Everyone begins to wonder what is going on. Then, Liz becomes pregnant and has a baby boy. At the naming “ceremony,” if that’s what you would call it (there’s a little procedure invovled), Zach suddenly becomes able to speak and everyone wonders what is going to become of this child?
Advent is the time where we prepare for God’s presence among us, especially in those places where God seems most absent. Usually we spend the Advent season hanging lights, eating foods, rushing here and there, shopping for a bunch of stuff to give a bunch of people because we’re supposed to. And if you hear a message during that season it’s about Jesus being the real meaning of the season and how we can miss God during this time if we go too fast. But, if this is Advent, if we’re preparing for God to be among us, then that means God’s not with us here and now.
So maybe we have it all right even when we have it all wrong.
Maybe part of the point is to miss God here and now, to realize what it is like when you are spreading yourself too thin, when you are accruing debt up to your eyeballs, when you’re not living into the ways of God. Maybe part of what we should do during this time is expose ourselves to the suffering of the world and to see what it is like when God is not among us because we’re not allowing Him to be in some way, shape, or form personally or globally. Maybe the point is to sit in the places where God is absent and to recognize that God is preparing to come among us in those places where He seems to be the most absent, which should fill us with great hope. Maybe instead of Christmas marking the end of a celebratory season, maybe it should be just the beginning, because at Christmas God is with us, God is among us. Maybe Christmas should be where the party begins. If we were to do that, to celebrate the light that has come into the world after wandering in darkness, what we might just find is that God had been with us all along, especially in the places He has seemed most absent. Maybe it’s only when we’ve experienced God’s absence that we can appreciate God’s presence among us. And maybe, just maybe in this time where we miss the reason for the season we will realize that there is a better way to live and live into that until the next Advent comes around. Perhaps that’s why in the liturgical year Advent marks the beginning, because God is always moving us from darkness to light. God is always moving us forward. So we begin with God’s absence and move to God’s presence.
And we celebrate.
In the scriptures, intermingled with this story line of Zach and Liz, is another story of a young girl who also sees and angel that tells her that she too is going to give birth to a son. She responds that there is a certain type of interaction that has to take place for that to happen, to which the angel says, not this time. Then the angel does something interesting, he tells her that a sign that this is going to take place is that her cousin Elizabeth who was barren is having a child. If Elizabeth had not been barren, this would not really be a sign. So in the place where God seemed most absent God was actually most present. Her pain had a point, there was meaning in her tragedy.
It was all a part of something bigger than she had ever imagined.
So, may you miss the reason for the season, and honestly examine all the places where God appears to be absent. May you have a great hope that God is about to be birthed into those places. May you have a Merry Christmas, experiencing God like never before. May you see that somehow God was present even where he seemed most absent. May you pain take on meaning, and may you realize that you are a part of something much bigger than you ever imagined.
And that morning may the party begin.