Each Advent season, I find myself reading through a Gospel. There is just something about revisiting the story of Jesus in the weeks leading up to Christmas that is good for my soul. This year, I’ve been especially helped by that practice as I reflect back on the tumultuous events of 2017.
Chaos and conflict
This has been a year of chaos and conflict. Natural disasters brought on devastating flooding in Houston and Puerto Rico, historic wildfires in northern California, and earthquakes, monsoons, and mudslides that affected or displaced countless thousands of people across the globe. Add to this the acts of terror we’ve witnessed this year, including bombings, multiple mass shootings, and vehicular assaults, all of which have heightened our collective sense of fear. And as we wind down the year, we do so beneath the looming shadow of a very public confrontation with the disturbing, predatory culture of sexual aggression that has for too long defined many of our nation’s most preeminent institutions. All of this, without mentioning the unceasing chaos of politics in our divided and uncertain time.
These things take their toll on us. After receiving word of another shooting, witnessing the devastation of a violent storm, watching the next prominent figure be publicly disgraced, or experiencing any number of personal tragedies, we are repeatedly forced to grapple again with common questions. We ask how God could let this happen. We ask how much more we can take. We ask who is next. And in all of this, we search desperately for some reason not to despair.
In the wake of such a difficult year, one filled with so much brokenness and so much pain, the most pressing question that arises is also very simple: is there any hope?
Nothing reminds us of the brokenness of our world like tragedy. And sadly, tragedy is all around us. In ways both big and small, our lives are filled with constant, and often painful, reminders that something isn’t right; things aren’t they way they are supposed to be. In the wake of such a difficult year, one filled with so much brokenness and so much pain, the most pressing question that arises is also very simple: is there any hope?
Advent and Incarnation
Every year, as we take stock of the events that mark the past and make our plans for the days ahead, Advent comes around again. In God’s providence, the very time of year when we are most inclined to reflect and remember is full of reminders of the coming of Jesus. This is not by accident.
As a millenial who didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, I find the practice to be both strange and important. Advent is strange because it signifies a period of waiting. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a millennial—myself included—is aware that we aren’t accustomed to waiting for anything. So, I find the practice strange because it runs against the grain. Coincidentally, this is the same reason I believe it is so important.
Advent is a season of waiting and expectation. As we count down the days to Christmas, these weeks are filled with anticipation. And in the midst of our year-end reflections, Advent points us toward a hope that transcends even the worst of circumstances. Jesus was born into chaos so that he might bring peace.
Jesus, after all, was not delivered in a hospital room or even inside of someone's home. Instead, he made his entrance into the world among the beasts of a manger. And as an infant, he and his parents fled to a faraway country, seeking refuge from a wicked despot who sought to take his life. At the Incarnation, God’s perfect Son came into our broken world to become Emmanuel—God with us.
Our waiting isn’t in vain
It is fitting that the biggest question brought on by tragedy is answered at the incarnation. This is because the sense of waiting and anticipation we feel at Advent is similar to the longing and expectation born out of tragedy. In the midst of our darkest days and deepest sorrows, we long for respite and relief. More than that, we long for a time when these horrible events that mark our years will finally come to an end—an end to cancer, an end to sexual assault, an end to earthquakes and hurricanes, an end to racial hatred, and an end to violence of every kind. Advent teaches us that our waiting is not in vain.
We all experience days when the darkness seems too strong, and hope feels far away. The Incarnation reminds us that light has pierced that darkness and has become our living hope (John 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:3). There is an infinite amount of hope bound up in the Incarnation. No matter how desperate the circumstance or deep the darkness, nothing is more powerful than the truth that, in Jesus, God came for us.
Jesus took on flesh and suffered a brutal death on the cross so that our suffering might come to an end. Even now, he is still Emmanuel, and he is with us in every moment of our pain. As we long for deliverance, we remember Jesus’ coming. Though the world is full of darkness, Jesus is the true light who has come into the world. Though we are tempted to despair, we remember Jesus is our blessed hope. And though we struggle in this life, we eagerly await the fulfilment of his promise, that surely he is coming soon (Rev. 22:20).
Even when life is most peaceful, there is never any shortage of evidence to remind us of how fallen and broken things are. Reading through the Gospels each year at Advent reminds me that Jesus literally stepped into our brokenness. I’m not sure there is a better hope than that.