The Advent of Hope
Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor is a guest writer for the Homiletics Blog and a self-described “Christmas fanatic.” He recently shared this reflection with Homiletics in the form of a letter to his congregation. His letter reveals how the year 2020 has been difficult and discouraging for everyone — pastors included. Through an honest account of his own emotional fatigue, he shows us that God is still speaking, and that we need this Advent season more than ever.
I’ll be honest, I’m in kind of a “place” right now. I’m not really in the mood to be perky about Christmas. Maybe I should pretend so that you will feel better. Maybe I should smile and be pastoral to lift you all. I put on Christmas music, but it’s not really doing the trick. This year has been hard … for all of us. We opened up to have people in worship, only to close again five weeks later. We have been so faithful and everyone has done so very much to make our church thrive. And we have. It’s really been amazing. We truly took the lemons of 2020 and made something beautiful. I am so very grateful to you all and to God, I really am. But, like you, I am just getting emotionally fatigued by the distance, the masks, the fear, the everything that 2020 has been.
So, here I sit, trying to write to you, my church. Trying to offer some kind of hope and cheer as we enter the Advent season. And I reflect on the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2). It’s easy to get excited about Christmas when life is shiny, pretty and fun. But what about when there is an empty place at the table, or the new baby you expected to celebrate isn’t here? When jobs are in jeopardy or you can’t be with people you love? Or when you fear for your own health or the health of those you love? My mind tells me one thing, but my spirit tells me another.
What my spirit tells me is that this is exactly the time we need Advent the most. We all love Christmas. But Advent is tough. It’s the waiting, the watching. Where is God for a struggling people? Where is God when we have lost our smiles and our “it is what it is” attitude, and when our souls can only cry out: “How long, O Lord?” This is precisely the world into which God came in the form of a helpless child. This is the world … these are the same people … scared about an uncertain future, faith rocked by loss, waiting and hoping (what seemed like, at times, against hope) for a new world to break through. And then into their world, in the brokenness of their own world, hope was born.
My spirit tells me that I need Advent more than ever. We all do. I need to be reminded that it was precisely into a world like ours that God chose to dwell. And like the Passover reminds the people of Israel, I can let this holy season remind me: God has been faithful and so God will be faithful. And amidst the uncertainty of 2020, that’s the one thing I know in the depth of my being to be true. God has always been faithful, and that faithfulness is my hope.
So, we will decorate the church. We will light the candles, sing the songs and observe a holy Advent. Because this year, we need the sacred reminder of a God who holds us close and calls us Beloved. Into a world like ours God chose to be born anew. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus, be born in us today!
Wishing you a blessed month,