In 2010 I decided to end my marriage. I had reached a point where I was exhausted, numb, confused, and broken. I was vulnerable and it wouldn’t have taken much to emotionally squash me had anyone I respected, like a pastor or friend, decided to be anything less than supportive during that difficult season. Thankfully, God stuck me in the cleft of a rock and covered me with His hand. Elements like criticalness and discouragement were kept far away, allowing God space to rebuild what the workings of humankind had destroyed.
Not long after that separation, I was forced to confront what everyone who has suffered great loss has to endure: the first holiday season alone. Nothing magnifies your pain more, then your entire culture telling you that you are supposed to be filled with mirth. What would I do? How would I be a source of Christmas joy for my children when joy was about as real as Santa Claus? There was no way I was going to be able to manufacture an illusion pretending all was heavenly, when our family’s reality was hell. If my kids and I were going to endure the agony of this season of “joy”, something in our lives would have to change.
I hadn’t observed Advent since I was a child. I had long ago eschewed the liturgical Reformed upbringing of my childhood and at my new church, Advent just wasn’t a thing. The Advent of my adult church lit occasional candles on Sunday, but the Advent of my childhood stole a few minutes every evening. Every night after dinner, my family would light our candles and offer a few moments of devotion, silence, and waiting. Christmas may celebrate fulfillment, but Advent honors neediness.
Perhaps Advent could be the balm to the horror of our holidays. I took my kids to our farmer’s market where they sold Christmas greens and we picked the wreath that would grace our kitchen table with her gentle light for the next few weeks. That first night, we finished our dinner and my son lit the first purple candle. I read a few words from a devotion I found on line and then we just sat and prayed for a minute. There was a bit of awkwardness that first evening, but soon my kids were asking to take turns with the matches and the devotional reading each night. Our kitchen table had mysteriously become a place where vulnerability was a friend, not a liability.
I want to close with this funny little scripture passage from today’s lectionary calendar. It’s Isaiah 11:8,9.
“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.”
Friends, this is what healing and redemption looks like. On God’s holy mountain, a child can skip and play amid danger. On God’s holy mountain there is safety for our most vulnerable pains. I invite you to dim your kitchen lights, strike a match, and sit with the dancing flicker of a purple candle or two. For it is in this space, that God’s Spirit waits for us to share our hurts, our exhaustion, and our disappointments.