This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Advent 15: Making peace with the pain of Advent joy

Christine Crouse-Dick (above right) is an associate professor of communication arts at Bethel College in North Newton, Kansas. Her current research focus is on the subject of infertility within Mennonite contexts. Christine and her husband, Christopher, write and present about their experiences during their ten-year journey with infertility. 

Jill Robb (above left) is a first grade teacher at Moundridge (Kansas) Elementary. While her primary focus is teaching 22 eager little learners, her other passion is volunteering at Camp Mennoscah in the summer months. Jill and her husband, Adam, share their four-year journey with infertility on their blog, Schoolhouse Shakeup

Read all Advent 2015 reflections.

So sing, Daughter Zion!
Raise the rafters, Israel!
Daughter Jerusalem,
be happy! celebrate!
God has reversed his judgments against you
and sent your enemies off chasing their tails.
From now on, God is Israel’s king,
in charge at the center.
There’s nothing to fear from evil
ever again!
Jerusalem will be told:
“Don’t be afraid.
Dear Zion,
don’t despair.
Your God is present among you,
a strong Warrior there to save you.
Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love
and delight you with his songs.
“The accumulated sorrows of your exile
will dissipate.
I, your God, will get rid of them for you.
You’ve carried those burdens long enough.
At the same time, I’ll get rid of all those
who’ve made your life miserable.
I’ll heal the maimed;
I’ll bring home the homeless.
In the very countries where they were hated
they will be venerated.
On Judgment Day
I’ll bring you back home—a great family gathering!
You’ll be famous and honored
all over the world.
You’ll see it with your own eyes—
all those painful partings turned into reunions!”
God’s Promise.
Zephaniah 3:14-20 (The Message)

Traditionally, the third Sunday of Advent invites rumination on and engagement with the concept of joy. In fact in today’s Advent text, the prophet Zephaniah instructs the people of Judah and the surrounding nations to sing, to be happy, to celebrate and not to fear or despair. This exhortation toward joyful celebration comes in the wake of an unanticipated pardon from God. The expectation was punishment for acts of complacency, corruption and injustice. Instead, Zephaniah brings news that God’s presence signals mercy, and that this is cause for Daughter Zion to “sing” and to “raise the rafters” in joyful celebration.

The purpose of the Advent season is to prepare intellectually, emotionally and spiritually for all that the birth of Christ symbolizes: the reconciliation of creation to God, God’s judgment on sin and the hope of eternal life. Deliverance, peace, justice and righteousness—these are good cause for joy!

And yet there are times when this joy does not come easily. In fact, there are times when Advent joy is not just elusive, but bitter and painful. There are times in the life of the Christian when Zephaniah’s hope-filled prophecy feels less like deliverance and more like a heavy burden.

Take the experience of infertility, for instance. For those who are unsuccessfully attempting to become pregnant and to bring new life into the church and the world, the Advent narrative of an unexpected pregnancy and a much anticipated and celebrated baby can be gut-wrenching. Repeated exposure to Scripture passages and congregational hymns about a young woman who not only was chosen to carry the child of God, but who also had no trouble becoming and remaining pregnant can feel unfair. Emphasis on the symbolic mystery, beauty and promise of Mary’s pregnancy can lead to mounting feelings of depression, loneliness and despair. Instead of joy and celebration, feelings of jealousy, anger, and frustration can arise.

It can be painful to joyfully anticipate a baby—even when the expected infant is the Christ child.

Of course, for those living in any type of closeted brokenness, Advent joy can be particularly difficult.

So what if one is unable to find their role in the hopeful, joyful Advent narrative? What if one isn’t able to “sing,” to “be happy,” and to “raise the rafters”? How do we as Christians reconcile the hopefulness of the Advent story with our sometimes hopeless, despair-filled realities? What do we do when it appears that our darkness will not give way to light? How can we make peace with the pain of Advent joy?

The Advent story is dependent upon our ability to sink into the darkness. Advent requires that we acknowledge our dark spots, our dark paths, our pain, the injury we have caused as well as the injury we sustain along our spiritual journey.

To rush into the song, to rush into the celebration, to rush into the hope of the Advent promise is to neglect and to discredit the importance of pain, of darkness and of hopelessness. To rush into Advent joy can cause us to ignore what needs tending within ourselves and within those who are hurting all around us.

Zephaniah assures us that God has a plan to remove the heaviest of our burdens. And while this is cause for celebration and joy, Zephaniah also states that God plans to “calm” (or in some versions, “quiet”) us “with his love.” Perhaps it is in this calm that we can make peace with the pain that is sometimes caused by Advent joy.

If we can acknowledge that there are ever present and very real obstacles to joy, if we can offer each other permission to be slow in our journey toward Advent joy, if we can calmly walk alongside one another while our sorrows accumulate, perhaps there is a place for us in the narrative of Advent joy.

Perhaps it is in the calm and quiet of the celebration where we are invited to be a part of bringing God’s deliverance to one another.

Into our troubles and weaknesses,
Into the barren places of our souls, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.

Into the war torn and the refugee,
Into those who live in conflict, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.

Into the homeless and the unemployed,
Into those who feel abandoned, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.

Into the sick, the poor, and the starving,
Into those who are oppressed and abused, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.

Into the lives of loved ones,
Into those from whom we are estranged, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.

Into our songs of celebration,
Into the pain of Advent joy, Come Lord,
Come down, come in, come among us and make us whole.*

*This prayer is modified from a liturgy published in Waiting for the Light: An Advent Devotional by Susan Wade, Ricci Kilmer and Christine Sine.

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