Advent: we remember and we hope. We look back and we look forward.
We remember when Jesus Christ came to earth, born into humanity in order to become the perfect sacrifice for our sins – the only offering that could truly restore our relationship with God.
We watch for the second coming of Jesus Christ, whose return will mark the end of this world and the beginning of a new world of peace, joy, and freedom in the presence of God. In this new world, the suffering that we once experienced will be no more. We will be healed, restored, made perfect as we reflect the glory of God.
During Advent, we light candles. These are a symbol of remembrance and hope. For Christians, Christmas is not just about remembering what happened 2,000 odd years ago. It also points us toward the blessed hope which we await. During winter, it gets dark earlier and stays dark later. We light candles: lights in the darkness. Hope in a hopeless world. We light candles and we remember that Christ came once, as he promised, and that he has promised to come again.
Advent is about hope – a word that I find paradoxically beautiful.
I say ‘paradoxically’ because I am prone to hopelessness.
I need a light in the darkness.
I need hope.
I need my Savior.
That is why I love this verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I consider these words to be one of the most beautiful expressions of the hope that Advent promises us:
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
I wanted to see how “dayspring” is defined today – not in a religious context, but simply a general context. This is what I found:
Dayspring: 1 archaic : the beginning of day : dawn 2 : the beginning of a new era or order of things (Merriam-Webster)
This reminded me of a few times when I drove from L.A. to the Bay Area at 4 am in the morning. The first couple of hours were pitch black. But then, the sky would start to gradually pale. And then, then. Over the mountain ridges. Glowing red and flooding, drenching everything in pure golden light. A glorious sunrise: the dayspring dispersing the darkness and filling the world with light.
I love thinking about this imagery as it relates to internal darkness: Jesus Christ as a light in my own darkness, a paling dawn that grows into a beautiful sunrise, filling every shadowed crevice within my soul, warming every frozen chamber and burning through the fog of gloom, the dark shadows that immobilize me. I love the idea of the darkness fleeing from the light.
Jesus himself speaks to the longing expressed in that verse. He answered the cry for relief from the weariness and suffering caused by the darkness:
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
And he did what he said he would do. He did disperse the gloomy clouds of night and drive away death’s dark shadows. In bringing to us the grace of salvation and reconciliation with God, Christ defeated the darkness:
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55)
Christ defeated the power of death, and yet today there is still death in the world. There is still suffering. We still look for the second coming, when the victory of Jesus Christ will be fully inaugurated, freeing us not only from the power of death, but from death itself, and suffering and darkness.
Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Understanding the meaning of that name for God underscores the significance of Advent. The refrain “Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel” could be understood as, “Rejoice! God is with us, and shall be with us, people of God.”
Right now, I’m holding a flickering candle of hope. Its light doesn’t make the darkness go away, but it holds the darkness at bay, it warns the darkness of a glorious dayspring that will come: a new order of things, a new day that will destroy the darkness with light.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Rejoice: do not lose hope. God is with us, and will be with us.