It seems funny to be writing about the dying of the light before we’ve even celebrated its coming! But for some reason this is what came to mind as I thought about marking the last Sunday in advent this year.
Advent, after all, is all about waiting. Waiting for something to happen, expectant that nothing will ever be the same again. It’s a tentative time, I suppose, even if we know that the inevitable happens. Perhaps it is helpful to not take for granted this most monumental of events. We don’t always like to linger in the uncertainty that a period like this might suggest, instead wanting everything to be straightforward.
But reconsider the story for just one moment. A young girl is told she is pregnant by an angel – isn’t this a mental health issue? She tells her fiancé, who has every right to demand her death by stoning – it’s what the scriptures demand after all. Somehow, they
patch it up, but no one wants anything to do with them when they return to his home town. They endure childbirth, a dreadfully risky business in many parts of the world today, let alone twenty-one centuries ago. And the. To cap it all off, they’re forced to flee the country by a genocidal ruler.
At any point this could have gone wrong. Of course, we could say ‘God had it all under control’, but the point of this free will stuff is that someone could have screwed it up somewhere.
Nothing is certain, after all.
Anyway, back to this embers idea.
Embers appear towards the end of the useful life of a fire. They suggest that there isn’t much left to burn, not much more heat to give or light to shine. What was once bold and spectacular, what once brought warmth and comfort is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.
But embers aren’t finished. They still have potential. They can still bring light and warmth of they’re gently coaxed back into life. They need a little bit of effort, a little bit of energy, but the story isn’t over yet.
I wonder if something of the story advent points towards is echoed in this? A people who haven’t really seen or heard much of hope for centuries could be forgiven for thinking that their time was done. That what once had been clear and obvious was no longer so. Even the religious practices suggested this – let’s just keep doing the same thing and sticking to the rules…who knows…it might even work one day.
When it does happen, though, when the embers are brought back to life and light and warmth, it’s not as anyone expects. Not kings or shepherds or wise men or priests or young girls or carpenters. It’s completely upside down, signalling a theme that will continue to dominate this incredible story for at the very least the next 33 years, if not the rest of eternity.
So, if all that is left of you and what once was is indeed embers, remember this story. Light and warmth is still there. You’re not done yet. What may come may knock you sideways, may turn you upside down. It may not. It may be something completely ordinary, perhaps so much so that you don’t see the intense beauty of ‘ordinary, everyday’.
Just be ready.
Something is coming.
That’s the point, after all, of this whole advent thing, isn’t it? We just don’t always know what.
Embrace the uncertainty and see where it goes. Who knows? That’s the beauty of it all.