David Janzen completed a career of social work and human resources in 2011, and is living in a retirement community in Goshen, IN. He and his wife were among the founding members of Fellowship of Hope, a Mennonite church and intentional community in Elkhart, IN. Dave has three sons and a daughter-in-law living nearby. His wife resides comfortably in a healthcare setting, and two of their sons live in group homes.
Since advent means the approach of something important, it stirs our imagination to hope for a better life for our families, our communities, and our world. Ancient Israel looked for signs that a Messiah would remove the yoke of oppression and usher in an age of justice and mercy. The songs credited to Hannah (I Sam. 2) and Mary (Luke 1) are powerful expressions of hope in times of uncertain future for their people. Now living centuries later, we celebrate the coming of Jesus and his message of salvation in our own perilous time.
How do those of us living with the challenge of a family member with disabilities, or even our own limitations, experience the hope of advent? What kind of hope do we hold on to when each day presents the same struggle? How do I answer the usual question, “How’s your wife?,” when Alzheimer’s disease is slowly robbing her of physical and mental ability? Or what can I offer my son who has an intellectual disability when he asks if I will dance at his wedding? His great hope seems so far out of reach and unlikely to be fulfilled.
Maybe my family’s situation isn’t so different from that faced by Hannah and Mary. What chance was there that a small people like Israel would become secure against overpowering forces in their world? We may see evidence that some of the powerful ones are knocked off their thrones, but where do the refugees and other poor find homes and food security?
The coming of Jesus brought a shining beacon that announced a new kingdom ("kin-dom," if you prefer) where love extends to all—poor and rich, able and disabled, young and old, documented and undocumented—regardless of race, gender, or nationality. As an adult, Jesus suffered rejection and physical pain to lead us toward becoming a community of caring, wounded people where love reigns. Our family's pain is real, but we can continue the journey knowing that God and our fellow travelers are here with us. I am grateful for the network of family, friends, church brothers and sisters, support group members, and facility staff who help us to recognize God’s presence as we face each day that comes.
Zechariah’s hymn in Luke 1 has become a favorite benediction for meetings in my church, and I think it sums up the meaning of Advent:
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”