Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Waiting for the light

It is December 14 and for the second time in three weeks, I am trying to make the nine-hour drive home for the holidays. For the second time in three weeks, there is bad weather. Last time I decided to drive overnight to beat the snow, and I was miserably tired, taking naps in truck stops and force-feeding myself eggs at 4 am with one cheek resting on the table at Cracker Barrel. All night, I was waiting desperately for the morning, for rejuvenation from the sun. But I swore I’d never drive overnight again, and so during this week’s “wintry mix” I drive by day, taking the eastern route to avoid the mountains and the snow.

I turn on the radio. On NPR, everything is about Sandy Hook, because it is the anniversary of the Newtown shooting. My eyes are brimming with tears as I hear one story of little Ana who was so full of life until her life was taken, as I hear of how her mother has been trying to transcend the tragedy and build a world of more compassion. I think of the slideshow of all those children, how unjust that their beauty should be cut short. I think how even worse is that there are many youth killed every week in our cities, and we haven’t properly grieved them. The news switches to Syria, and I start thinking about the hundreds of Syrian children who have died in the civil war, for whom we have no slide shows to look at. Most of the time I put all of this out of my mind, but today I don’t avoid it.

Vigil from VA Tech, 2007.  Photo by Ben Townsend

It feels dark, this time of year, this time in the world. It feels like there is the possibility of something more, but that we are always bogged down and still waiting for what it could be. What we could be.

The season of Advent, this time of waiting for the light of Christ, has always been one of my favorite times of the year. I need this time of year—I think because it resembles how life is. We are stuck in the brokenness of it all, but we are longing and trusting and knowing that hope is coming. Even when days are short and the air is cold. Even when the radio is heavy with the deaths of children in Connecticut and New Orleans and Syria.

I read these words of Johann Christoph Arnold in an Advent devotional: The only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death.

As we wait, the real challenge is to wait well, to wait with meaning, with a hope deeper than cookies and carols. It is, of course, much easier to slog through the days. My brother, who has this waiting thing down better than me, calls and asks if I want to help him with a “generosity project” for church. I say yes. We spend a couple hours on December 16 biking around downtown Baltimore, bringing salami sandwiches and fritos and hot coffee to guys standing on street corners. It is a small thing. They need a lot more than a cup of hot coffee. But although I wouldn’t have done it on my own, it feels like the right thing to do in Advent, while we are waiting for the light, waiting for healing and justice to come in a bigger way.

If only I could learn to do one small thing like this each day. I think of a three people who died this year, three people who lived in such a way that death could not extinguish their legacy—Nelson Mandela, and my Grandfather, and Gordon Cosby. Their lives were marked mostly small things, the daily resolution to forgive, to be thankful, to pray, to be open to love. They did not give an answer to injustice or fear or death. But they waited and watched productively, hopefully. And by their love they drew others along with them into the hope of something better.

Which is why Advent is a communal experience. We don’t wait alone. So sometimes—like on December 14 when I finally arrive in Maryland just before dark—we find ourselves among friends and warmth and laughter, and we are deeply thankful. And then for a moment, we catch a glimpse of the love and light that is what we were made for, the love and light that is coming our way again this season, through Christ the babe.

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