O God, the nations have defiled your holy temple; they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food. – Psalm 79:1-2 (NRSV)
The bleakness of early Advent – these first few days when the lectionary readings are all doom and gloom – is kinda my favorite part of the season. The psalmist moans, “The city is ruined. The holy places are wrecked.” The prophet warns, “The sun bleeds red. The moon hides its light.”
That’s the good stuff!
It’s not that I love a grim worldview. It’s not that I enjoy the torment of chaos. It’s that I’m relieved when we name them aloud in church, in that beloved community where we sometimes have the habit of proclaiming good news so loudly that pain and despair are shamed into silence. But oh! the alleviation and comfort that come when the church intentionally tunes its heart to the groaning, the anger, the fear, the devastation that wrack our daily lives.
“Look, God!” we shout together with the psalmist. “See how there is too much blood in the streets – too much blood and not enough justice!”
“Wake up, church!” we exhort one another. “We have studied war to make a name for ourselves, instead of studying peace to praise the name of God!”
“Do not ignore the pain,” we pray, “of homes leveled and walls built! Of creation poisoned and compassion mocked! Of bodies extorted and healing withheld for ransom!”
The start of Advent lays bare the world’s pain … without which there would be no reason for God’s coming. No reason for angels singing. No reason for prophets preaching. No reason for magi seeking.
No reason for hoping and imagining and living toward a new world.
Thank God for these dire days of Advent when we observe the world’s depravity so that – in our confession of pain and horror – a whisper of assurance might be known, a single candle lit to keep us company through the long night.
God almighty, the world has hit rock bottom today – and I’m pretty sure we’ll reach a new low tomorrow. Receive our pain. Notice our tears. Honor the shouts lifted up in prayer, and come swiftly to be with us.
Rachel Hackenberg serves on the national staff for the United Church of Christ. She is the author of Writing to God and the co-author of Denial Is My Spiritual Practice, among other titles. Her blog is Faith and Water.