Advent is a time to lament the darkness in ourselves and our world and cultivate hope and longing for the arrival of a love so powerful; a love so capitivating that it gathers together all peoples and renews all things. This rich tradition provides a beautiful rhythm of life that can lead us into deeper experiences of God’s great love for us – both individually and communally.
The journey towards love begins as the days grow shorter and the darkness increases…we watch; we listen; and hope for the coming light that shatters the darkness.
In Advent we can journey towards unconditional love, but more accurately, it is the coming of unconditional love to us. Because Advent reminds that long before we thought to move towards God,
God went into action, God pursued us, God blazed a trail – in love – straight for us.
The mystery of Advent is a God who, possessed by love, took on flesh, became like us, in order to be with us. The Light of the World invaded the darkness and calls us out as dearly loved children. However, to fully behold the brilliance of this Light, we must first be willing to sit in the darkness.
Opened to the Darkness
Sitting in darkness, we feel in our bones the weight of our own suffering and the sufferings of our global community. We lament that the world is not as it should be – all is not right. For example:
Murderous regimes wage war and people are left to scatter as refugees.
Men abuse and mistreat women and reinforce cultural norms and male-centered hierarchies that value maleness over femaleness.
Blacks and Latinos fill our prisons in numbers wildly disproportionate to overall population figures; often imprisoned for conduct that white people rarely get locked up for.
Blacks are killed by police officers; killed in situations where white people would never need to fear for their lives. And so, Advent. A time to be reminded that we are desperately in need of a savior; of a God who will come and work justice on behalf of the oppressed; whose love is strong enough to change our world.
Loved in the Coming
Advent invites us to long for deeper revelations of God’s great love for all of humankind. Advent brings whispers of hope . . . that into this darkness and despair, a new kingdom came and is coming; a new way of life BURST FORTH.
This new way allows us to experience the love and connection that we long for in the depths of our beings; to know ourselves as loved and affirmed because of who we are – not what we can do.
And experiential knowledge of this love shapes our core identity as a people who love their neighbor; a people who over and over demonstrate that God’s love is for EVERYONE; a people who embody the self-giving love of Christ that leads us to give generously and sacrificially; and most radically, a people committed to loving our enemies and refusing to perpetuate cycles of violence and hatred.
During Advent, we watch and wait for God’s incredible love to transform our lives and shape us into this kind of people. And this love compels us to action; compels us to participate with a God who is always on the side of the marginalized and oppressed and calls us to work for justice and peace.
Transformed By Practice
Advent is a time to watch and wait in order to encounter and be encountered. Mere intellectual agreement with theological assertions has historically failed to bring about the transformation we need in our world.
Theologian A.W. Tozer famously warned that too many of us have “substituted theological ideas for an arresting encounter.” We need more “arresting encounters”. To know in our bones that this love is our destiny, our healing, our fulfillment.
The bad news is that genuine encounter usually requires vulnerability. And I know all too well the desire to do anything possible to avoid being vulnerable; to act like I have it all figured out. I want to earn; I want to achieve; I have this nagging sense that I should make myself worthy of love before I can accept it. But all this keeps me from actually receiving unconditional love.
This love comes only as a gift. Therefore, it can only be received and never earned. But how?
Means of Grace
Some of our traditions discuss the idea of “means of grace.” Essentially, grace is unearned, but we should not sit idly by waiting for grace to come. Rather, we should pursue the means of grace. These are practices, disciplines, symbols, words, people – virtually anything – that become conduits by which we encounter God’s great love for us.
I will conclude with some means of grace I have experienced in hopes that they may become conduits in your own life.
I find a quiet place to sit quietly with God and let myself feel the emotions in the darkness. I am vulnerable and exposed with my own brokenness. Then , I fixate on a mental picture that helps me know God’s love and I allow that picture to consume the darkness. I often return to the picture of God as a mother hen who gathers her chicks and shelters them under her fiercely protective wings.
I pay special attention to a long hug from a friend or family member; allowing their physical embrace to be a tangible reminder of God’s love for me.
I hold onto the truth that I will never be more of a child of God than I am right now. This means that my identity as a beloved child is not tied to my achievements or abilities. I am loved today – RIGHT NOW – for who I am. I remember that God’s love reflects God’s character, not my behavior.
And the more we practice, the more we become a people who know in our bones that we are dearly loved and there is hope for transformation. God’s love empowers us to be the kind of people that creatively work for healing and restoration in the midst of darkness and who bear witness to a transcendent love and hope that can be experienced here and now – especially in the midst of competing kingdoms that often produce violence, hatred, and suffering.
Darren grew up in Colorado and moved to California to attend Azusa Pacific University after having to give up on his lifelong dream of being a MLB baseball player due to lack of talent. He majored in Biblical Studies and minored in Spanish and later went on to be a part of the second-ever class at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. He is married to an incredibly wise, hilarious, and beautiful partner and currently practices law as a corporate associate at a national law firm.