As a child I grew up with glowing purple and pink candles at the front of the sanctuary, enshrined in carefully arranged greenery and brass. We sang songs about peace and love, hope and joy reaching every human heart. We bought gifts for children on the angel tree and stuffed shoeboxes full of dollar store fodder to send overseas.
But I lacked the imagination to conceive of a world in which peace meant no person was in need of charity, in which love meant overturning hierarchies of those who have and have not.
In its earliest expression, Advent was a season of preparation for those seeking baptism. It was a time of fasting and contemplation, of determining ways to relinquish the powers and privileges of this world to follow Christ.
Far from meticulously arranged pine branches, Advent invites us to meticulously order our lives to orient toward the rallying cry of Mary, “may the poor be filled, and may the rich be sent away empty.” To direct our gaze to the mangers underneath the inn, the forgotten spaces around us to look for the holy.
Which is why we’re calling this series of devotions “Radvent.”
We recognize that in an upside-down world, things like “hope,” “peace,” “joy,” and “love” are costly behaviors, not warm, pleasant values.
We begin our reflections this week in the dark.
Darkness has often gotten a bad wrap in faith circles. But it is only in the darkness we find the gifts that guide us into the freedom and flourishing we seek. “New life starts in the dark,” writes Barbara Brown Taylor, “whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
From there we will examine hope, a most subversive practice that refuses to coalesce to the status quo; relentlessly demands that things should be different tomorrow than they are today.
We turn then to practice because employing the gifts of the darkness with the drive of hope will necessitate our participation in a way other than our own.
Finally, we arrive at presence, because at the end of the day the best representation we are given of what it looks like to practice hope is a Word made flesh, moving into the neighborhood, dwelling among us, even when we could not recognize the Presence in our midst.
As we begin this journey, I invite you to ponder with me the words of Wendell Berry: “To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.” We don’t begin this season with glowing lights and brass-laden wreaths. We don’t get to skip straight to the presents and the hallelujahs, to sing hymns that gloss over the challenges of this world for a false peace, a saccharine love.
We begin this season resolved to know the dark.
To go without sight.
Trusting that not only does Light shine in the darkness, it is only in the darkness that the light shines.