Advent Realities

A few weeks ago I wrote with great hopefulness of entering into this season of Advent and avoiding the rush, the hectic-ness, all the crazy. I wrote as one with high hopes of quiet mornings spent in the glow of our Christmas tree, sipping coffee and considering the mysteries of the Incarnation.

Three weeks in, I’m laughing at my own naivete.

Advent, like every other season of life, tends not to follow a Hallmark movie script where everything always works out, where everything from the tree to the teeth is perfect, the presents are large, and the storybook endings always come to pass. Like each and every season of the year and of life, the anticipation seldom matches the reality, does it?

And like each and every season, we are left with two choices: we can either let the frustrations, disappointments, and anger boil up and take over, or we can make the most of the fleeting moments and joys we have. I don’t always choose well when given the opportunity. Yes, dear reader, even in this most glorious of seasons when goodwill and joy are supposedly most abounding, my own heart has felt far from settled and not-so-joyous. Scattered and covered, like Waffle House hash browns, is probably more apt a description.

But there are moments, fleeting though they may be, where the light breaks through, and I remember.

Last Sunday night, my wife and I found ourselves in Nashville, TN, rounding the corner of Broadway and 5th, and standing in the shadow of the Mother Church of Country. After a potentially ruinous flight delay (through which Southwest Airlines won two lifetime customers via their amazing service), we were in the Music City meeting dear friends from NC to celebrate the season seeing Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” at the historic Ryman Auditorium. (If you haven’t heard this album before, stop reading, google it, get a cup of coffee and sit back and listen. You can thank me later)

Just north of the bright lights of the Honky Tonks on Broadway, tucked in between skyscrapers and new construction projects, the stained glass windows of the Ryman glowed with light from within, beckoning us to come inside and listen to the old, old story once again. It felt like a pilgrimage in microcosm, turning from the noise and the chaos and the lights towards the soft glow and half-light of that old venue.

As the opening song began, the words wafted over my eardrums and down into my heart: “He holds all things, all things, all things together.” I thought of my wife and I sitting in the balcony here three years ago, a mere 36 months ago which may as well be a lifetime. So much has changed. We are not the same man and woman as we were then. As we ended the first half of the night with Peterson’s amazing hymn “Is He Worthy,” the voices of the faithful in that hallowed room rose to the rafters answering the question: “He is!” I just about lost it. Though I have scars and wounds I didn’t know about three years ago, though life has not worked out the way I dreamt, though I have questions and hurts and disappointments flooding my heart, I could only nod my head in agreement “He is!

As the night continued with the “Behold the Lamb of God” album played beginning to end (as I said, if you haven’t heard it, why are you still reading??? Go stream/download/buy it now! And thank me later!), I realized I was having “my Advent moment.” From Abraham and Issac, Moses in Egypt, the Judges to King David, they sang the story of the people of God longing and yearning, watching and waiting for their Savior, their Deliverer, to come. They sang the longing of my own heart. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins.” Yes. Behold. Ponder. Consider Him, in the midst of your disappointments, your hurts, your sorrows. Behold Jesus.

I smiled, I wept, I rejoiced.

Hope, the hope that nothing in this world can bring, swirled into that room on the wings of song. Hope, the hope that surpasses disappointments, failures, dashed dreams and hurts, settled on my heart anew like the dew of morning. Hearing these now two-decade old songs telling the much older story, hearing folks who not only know the lyrics but seem to truly know the One the lyrics speak of, just washed over me like that the first time, all those years ago.

And for a brief moment in that old church, in a season I’d hoped would slow down, but which has been going by in a blur, I breathed deeply of the fresh air of the Gospel, the hope of Jesus, “the brave little boy who was God but made Himself nothing.” I felt a spark rekindle. I felt the wind of the Spirit blow on that ember, an ember which has struggled to stay lit this year. As they sang over us, from those on the stage to the folks all around me, from every soul in that old building, the very spirit of God was brooding over my own soul, breathing life into dry bones.

And like every moment of life, in every season, it ended. We walked back into the night, into the lights and the noise and the busyness. But I’m carrying with me the coals of that evening, glowing, burning, giving off warmth. I’m carrying the flame of the One who speaks light into darkness, joy into sorrow, and hope into hopelessness. I forget so easily; I’m grateful for the reminders, the billows blowing moments when the dark is lessened by the glowing of that light. I pray you have some of those moments, too.

Not just in Advent.

In every season.

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