by Jeff Skeens
“Dashing through the snow, on a one horse open slay, over the fields we go, laughing all the way, “Ha, ha, ha!…” This song filled my heart with joy when I was a young boy. The imagery of being on a Christmas slay going up and down hills like a roller coaster whipping us side to side, laughing and screaming and wanting it to never end; oh, those were the days! The innocent days when joy was so close you could reach out and touch it whenever you would like. Oh, to greatly rejoice so easily and to celebrate without fear of what you looked or sounded like.
This type of childlike joy is part of what Advent was meant to bring back into our lives each year. The joy of our imaginations bringing us to the place where the Prince comes to rescue us and bring us to live safely within the walls of his land, with him forever, living off the bounty of his father, who’s the greatest, kindest King of the land.
But this begs the questions, Why would the princess long for the prince to come rescue her? Why would you long for the coming of a hero to come rescue. Why would it be good news for someone to come renew. One word: distress. We long for rescue when we’re in distress. Suffering creates longing. When things are broken and we can’t fix them, we call someone who can; or we long for someone who has the skills to show up make things new. Distress is at the heart of Advent.
I’d like to think that this is somewhat close to what the prophet Isaiah was thinking when he wrote this:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:10-11)
Oh, the joy of our salvation from God! This ancient passage was joyous in light of the nation of Israel’s distress and suffering. On this side of redemptive history, the longing for Advent is encouraged by distress, whether it’s distress in our lives, or in the lives of those we grieve with. So as Christmas Eve approaches, I’m reminded that I’m not just eager for the joy of a savior, but for the joy of a savior who is coming to alleviate distress throughout out earth. His arrival is a sign of this.
From the most unlikely of circumstances, as prophets foretold, God comes to earth to begin the salvation process by the means of a helpless babe, born to a refugee teen mom who’s never known a man, and a father who’s family tree is littered with promise and scandal, and the only family tree from the days of old that included women… brave, scandalous, promiscuous women, who God called righteous for their faith.
This is the savior who has come. He has turned the world upside down, he has included those who others exclude, He touches the untouchable, He is friends with the heathens, and undoes the broken religious system by creating a community of people who long for him, for justice, for goodness, and who will do whatever it takes to follow him in a world full of pain and suffering. In our solidarity of suffering and longing… hope arrives and we rejoice.
This is fuel for child like imaginations. This is what suffering can create when there’s hope for an end to our suffering. We gather together with others and find comfort in our together-ness and feed off of each other’s imaginations. We begin to get giddy and laugh even before the distress is remedied, much a child before Christmas Eve so excited for the gifts yet to come… We start telling stories of what’s yet to come, and we join together to listen, to sing and dance and laugh, and we actually transform the way we experience our distress… for those brief moments, we can bear the burden and things don’t seem too dark. May this advent bring joy to you in the dark and the distress, and cause laughter and love and joy to well up deep in your soul, as you hold on to the promise, that this is not how it will end.