This Sunday, we begin the season of Advent. Growing up, my long-lasting memories of this season include making advent wreaths, lighting candles each Sunday, and the joyful anticipation recalling the Christmas narrative. Advent is a hope-filled time brimming with excitement as we remember God coming to dwell among us as a baby boy. It surely is a season where we party!
In the year of 2017, Advent came alive in a new exciting way for me, as my husband and I had just received the news that we were pregnant after years of challenges trying to create a family. I identified with Elizabeth, I resonated with Mary, and felt the wonder and celebration of the season so profoundly. Then, on Christmas Day, we lost our baby. We were confronted not only with the heart-wrenching loss, but also faced the painful juxtaposition of this celebratory season all around us. Where were we to find ourselves in the joyous Christmas story - and not just this year, but in all the years to come?
In the biblical narrative of Christmas, there’s a couple of verses in Matthew I had never noticed before. They’re not the ones we hear sermons on or write Christmas carols about (Who’s gonna write a Christmas carol about a genocide?). Herod goes on a power trip, and fearful of the news of Jesus’ birth, he orders the genocide of all baby boys under the age of two across the region (Matthew 2:16). Here in the midst of our Christmas narrative we find awful, ruthless loss. We see injustice and political powers destroying the most vulnerable in society; it’s not all ‘joy to the world’ in this moment. Quoting Jeremiah, Matthew reveals the grieving reality of those who experience these horrors.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted
because they are no more.”
- Matthew 2:18
A voice is heard. A weeping. A collective of voices, mourning mothers (and fathers) who are in the gut-ripping claws of grief. This inclusion of the brutal reality of loss that first Christmas made it possible for me to feel a part of the Christmas story. I identified with Rachel, a weeping mother.
At the same time that Rachel weeps for the children who are no more, there is celebration for a child born - the Saviour of the World. Here is the juxtaposition right before us. A paradox of lightness and darkness that we still see today. The birth of Jesus is the inauguration of God’s Kingdom coming on earth, yet all creation is groaning and awaiting Jesus’ final return as King, making all things new.
We can see in our world today that the rule of the King and restoration of the Kingdom has not-yet reached fruition. And there are a lot of things in our world not-yet restored. There is so much loss this year. So. Much. The world feels more fragile than it ever has, a global pandemic, political upheavals, racial injustice, ruthless poverty and hunger, uncontrollable fires, devastating floods and much, much more. There will be a great mourning this year for the 1,430,000 families (to date) who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, not to mention all the ‘hidden’ losses of babies, the loss of jobs, livelihoods, or homes. There is much to grieve in our world.
In the Advent narrative, like Rachel’s weeping, God’s sorrow at a broken world is the very reason God has come to dwell among us. Advent actually invites and makes welcome our tears and grief as a part of the story. We see our ‘not-yet’ realities, and we look to a future hope where all will be restored and every tear will be wiped away.
Loss and grief are no longer an end, they are included as part of the way to resurrected life in Christ. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
And that really is hope for our world.
So as God’s people who are sent into this world, we are invited to live into this juxtaposition. Grieving for the losses while celebrating that our Saviour is born and all that means for our future hope. NZCMS sends people to the hard places to demonstrate Kingdom reconciliation. We hold the global realities before the NZ Church that we might be stirred to pray, to give and to go.
As God’s people we hold hope in the spaces of our world where it looks hopeless. We embody peace and reconciliation in a violent world tearing each other down. We practice joy by celebrating any small miracle or good news amid the sorrows. We enact radical love in a world handing out cheap love and calling some ‘unlovable’. We grow in faith as we courageously (and fearfully) say ‘yes’, like Mary does, to the arrival of God in our midst.
To those of us who are carrying grief and loss into this Advent season, you are included. May we live the juxtaposition deeply this Advent. May our Advent be a joyful party and a season for grieving as we know God with us.
Kirstin Cant, Missions Enabler