We are approaching the mid-point of Advent, which, of course, includes the lighting of the rose-colored candle in our Advent wreath. It’s not just a pretty color or a seasonal aesthetic. For all of us on the Advent path, the color has deeper meaning: Gaudete, Rejoice! In a world focused on pre-Christmas chaos, the rose-tinged theme of this week is a little wake-up call, providing a sudden bright spot that makes us snap to attention and simultaneously draws us back to our center. The secular version of the season insists we hurry, shop, bake, wrap, but the Advent readings remind us to recalibrate, pause and ponder the story that is unfolding slowly before us rather than jumping ahead to the ending.
If we surrender to what is offered to us during Advent and give ourselves permission to slow down, we suddenly find life set to a new rhythm, a sacred rhythm that urges us to savor the preparations for the feast rather than just the feast itself. As we walk step by step toward Christmas, we are continually reminded that the journey is the goal, because this is about so much more than a moment that comes and goes in the blink of an eye. If we are paying attention, this journey will coax us along, reminding us that when the bows and ribbons are discarded later this season and the tree is brought to the curb, the inner place where we dwell in silence and the Person who dwells there with us is eternal. If this season does what it is meant to do, we will be left with an internal glow that shines on long after the ornaments and singing Santas are packed away.
While that sounds nice, we all know it’s not so simple. It can be difficult to keep that light shining through all the challenges and frustrations and annoyances that come our way day in and day out. It’s so much easier sometimes to slip back into dissatisfaction, to take up a poor-pitiful-me position and wonder why God (and everyone we encounter) can’t make it easier for us to be prayerful and patient and peaceful. But that’s not the way life works, and what merit is there in being prayerful if its power only sticks when times are good, right?
I think it comes down to remembering that rejoicing (today or any day) doesn’t mean we have to be happy all the time, outwardly bouncing around with a smile on our face from one moment to the next. To truly rejoice is to remain inwardly joyful even when times are hard, because our joy isn’t in things of this world; our joy is in God and what God has done for us.
When I was on an Advent retreat several years ago, we sang a beautiful Taize chant:
“Our darkness is never darkness in your sight. The deepest night is clear as the daylight.”
The play of light against darkness is so apparent during this season, when the ever-increasing glow of the Advent wreath stands in stark contrast to the thick cover of night outside our windows. During these turbulent and troubling times, it is especially easy to become so laser-focused on the darkness that we don’t see (or choose to ignore) the light shimmering all around us. We can even get into the bad habit of seeking out the darkness and stewing there. It becomes familiar and comforting, despite being painful and fear-inducing.
Throughout Advent we hear the messengers of Scripture reminding our ancestors in faith — Zechariah, Joseph, Mary — not to be afraid. Because God is with us, not just during Advent, not just on Christmas, but through every high and low of our year and our life. Once we realize there is no darkness with God, everything becomes clear, and we shine like the sun, even at midnight.
This column originally appeared in the Dec. 8, 2022, issue of The Evangelist.