Advent, the four-week period leading up to Christmas, is traditionally a time of waiting and anticipation. It used to be that Christmas and all its trappings was not brought out in the stores before Halloween. I remember not being able to eat any of the Christmas cookies we had made until Christmas Day. The Christmas "season" was from Christmas Day until January 6, or Epiphany on the church calendar. The traditional twelve days of Christmas were for celebrating, not packing up all the decorations and standing in lines to return gifts. We weren't tired of the carols and the cookies and the overindulgence because we hadn't even started partying yet.
Waiting when you know there's good news at the other end is a time of joyful anticipation. But what if you're waiting and waiting and don't know if anything good is coming? What happens when you keep banging on heaven's doors with your prayers and the only answer you get is silence? What if you pray for months, years even, your heart aching with the weight of longing, until you begin to doubt that Anyone is even listening? When it seems like, as in Narnia, it is always winter, and never Christmas?
We long to know that Someone hears, we long to know that our hearts matter, we long to believe that our dreams and hopes and those of our loved ones will not end up shattered and broken.
I once prayed for something for eight long years. It ended up not to be. I'm okay with it now. But sometimes I wish I hadn't wasted all that time praying for something that "wasn't meant to be," a nice-sounding phrase that can twist in your gut when you're hoping and wishing and dreaming for something you feel you desperately need. I don't know what I learned during those eight years. I'd like to say I learned patience and faith, and that things really do "work out for the best."
But here I am again praying and longing and not knowing how things will work out, and wondering why. Am I wasting my time again? I may end up with heartache. But this is what faith is. It wouldn't be faith if we knew how it was all going to work out.
I love the psalms of David. He is so real in his pain. He complains and cries. He gives me permission to rail against the heavens with honest grief and honest incomprehension. But, in the end, once he's exhausted himself with tears, he also reminds me that Christmas really IS coming. There will come a time of partying after the long night of mourning, no matter how things work out. Because Someone really does hear. Someone really will show up.
This is what I preach to myself. This is what I have to preach to myself over and over again, as to a dull, thick-headed person, slow to understand. Even when, especially when, my faith is small and wavering.
We wait. We wait in darkness. We cry and mourn and are filled with sorrow. We don't know if our prayers will be answered. Like a pregnant woman, heavy with child and filled with a mixture of hope and fear, joy and nervous expectation, we wait, unable to control events that are beyond our control. But somewhere, in the distance, we get glimpses of, and hope for, a Light.
This isn't an easy time for many. The bright lights of the holiday season can put in stark relief the pain we may be experiencing. I want to encourage your heart and mine that Christmas IS coming. It won't always be winter.