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Advent begins in the Dark

In the mid-2000s, our family lived in northwest Kenya, among the Turkana people. That part of the world is arid semi-desert, filled with scrub brush, dry riverbeds, and lots and lots of sand. It’s also pretty isolated from the rest of the country. Which might be a few reasons why the roads in Turkana leave something to be desired.


In Turkana, the same word (erot) is used for a footpath, an animal trail, or a road. Sometimes when driving on an erot, you discover it’s actually just a footpath to someone’s house, instead of the village you were headed to. And sometimes, what you thought was a road gradually just fades and disappears into the bushes. Most of the time, you could tell if a place was “important” by how decent the road was; a road to an important place would be more than merely tyre tracks from previous lorries (trucks) or pikkies (motorbikes)—it would be graded, cut through dunes, holes filled with stones. If the destination was really important, the road would be layered with gravel. And if it was the single highway coming from the south through Turkana up to South Sudan, it might actually be paved.


Roads are essential tools for commerce and trade, for war and celebration. And for the arrival of kings. The prophet Isaiah comforts the exiled people of Israel with these words:

A voice cries out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;

make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.

These words, these commands of the prophet, prepare ye the way of the Lord, aren’t meant to entice or compel the Lord to come, but for God’s people to recognize that the Lord is already on the way. Grading and filling highways, flattening and smoothing a broad path was necessary in the Ancient Near East—just like in the wilderness of Kenya—whenever wheeled vehicles were using the road; preparing a rugged path into a broad smooth road—no longer merely animal and pedestrian traffic, it now becomes a processional road for the king who is coming.


Coming… in over 500 years. The people have waited over 500 years from Isaiah’s message. Then one day, John the Baptist appears and says, “Hey, this is about me! I’m that voice! That time you’ve been waiting for is right now! Look he’s here!” And sure enough, Jesus shows up. So the Messiah came. He lived enfleshed among a particular, peculiar people. He taught and healed and fed and ate and loved and wept. He died, was buried, and raised to life.


So what are we still waiting for? What are we still preparing for? We are preparing for Christ to come again! For the kingdom of God to be revealed, on earth as it is in heaven. For all things to be renewed, restored, recreated. For the shalom wholeness rightness of God to be present on earth as it is in heaven. Christ will come again and usher in that kingdom.

In many church traditions, as participants prepare for Communion, they proclaim —

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

Á la 1 Corinthians 11.26:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death

until he comes.


Maybe it seems weird to talk about a Eucharist affirmation this first week of Advent, as we are just beginning to light one small candle. But light is most needed; hope is most needed, when times seem darkest. I think that can easily describe these times.


Advent begins in the dark. The prophets have been silent. The world is in turmoil.

We are living in dark times. And we have been for a long time.

We see and experience

heartaches

systemic patterns of abuse

injustice

destruction…

what we call sin.

Maybe we grow weary from walking through all that.

Maybe we’re tempted towards hopelessness that nothing will ever really change.

But then someone lights a candle.

Just one.

It doesn’t open the path forward for us. It doesn’t do much… except reveal the outline of images. And remind us that there is light. Light exists. In dark places, dark times, it’s easy to forget that there’s something like light.[1] Even a single candle can change the world: there is light. And we gravitate towards it, like the gravitational pull of a campfire to warm our hands.


Hope is where Advent needs to start. If we don’t hope, if we don’t anticipate that something is coming, then there is nothing to prepare for, nothing to get ready for. The prophets have been silent. Then like a single candle in the dark, John the Baptist appears on the world’s stage with a staggering message:

“I’m that messenger of Malachi, that voice from Isaiah, ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord.’”

The Lord is coming!

The candle is lit.

The flame is burning.

And we’ll watch it spread and grow brighter as we, too, prepare for the Lord’s coming. We’re in the time between the times, in Rodney Clapp’s words. That important, pregnant time between the Messiah’s first and second comings. The Messiah that Isaiah anticipated and John welcomed, has come.

He has died.

He has risen. The darkness of this in-between time won’t last. A candle is lit.

Christ will come again. That’s what hope is.


The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (Jn 1.5)

In the midst of dark times, we proclaim:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom 8.21)

While the world around us shows signs of death and decay, we proclaim:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

The sufferings of this present time are not comparable with the glory about to be revealed to us. (Rom 8.18)

Together with the children of God, we prepare the way of the Lord by proclaiming:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.


[1] This reminds me of when, in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair, of Narnia fame, the Queen of the Underland attempts to convince the children that there is no sun, no Narnia, no Aslan. Under her enchantment, it was relieving to believe her. All that exists, she lied, is the darkness of the Underland.

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