“Do you know what the nighttime means?” asks the toddler at dinner as he shovels mac and cheese into his mouth.
“No, what does it mean?” I ask.
“It means another day is coming!” he responds excitedly, then takes a gulp of juice from his sippy cup, and carries on with something about dinosaurs.
I stop eating and watch him, repeating his carefree words in my head.
The nighttime means another day is coming.
In the morning of a new day, before the rising of the sun, I rise in a dark and unusually quiet house. I feed the cat, make the coffee, and begin an Advent ritual of turning on tiny lights scattered throughout the house. The lights immediately signal presence in the darkness and I am also quiet, aware of the paradox in which we all find ourselves, both in the season of Advent – the season of hope, peace, joy, love – and in the midst of… well… 2020.
The words and virtues of Advent have not changed, but in a year that has deepened challenges for some made most vulnerable by the systems of our world, and in a time when most of us have found our days met with uncertainty, instability, disconnection, and a seeming lack of any of those Advent virtues, they ring differently – as paradox – or as a quiet guide through our darkest nights.
Alongside the virtues of hope, peace, joy, and love, Advent calls us to wait, to prepare, to get ready. This year we have certainly waited, watched, and prepared. We watched for news of hope amidst lockdowns, quarantines, hospital visits, political uncertainty, and racial injustice. We waited for answers, new scientific breakthroughs, test results, a call from the nurse tending to us or our loved one, or for the end of quarantine. Some of us have prepared in the fear of healthcare rationing: whether our providers or support staff could get to us, whether we’d have a job, our medications, or food, let alone a sense of connection to others or with God. We have waited for vaccine approvals, election results, and for everyone to get logged into Zoom. We have watched injustice and violence on the news and in our communities and we have waited for change. We have watched weather forecasts and made last-minute plans to see loved ones outside or through a window, another 2020 paradox – so close, yet not fully together.
On paper, looking at the headlines of this year could leave us feeling quite distant from the virtues of Advent. Maybe on paper, disability is a sort of paradox, too. Being given a limiting, two-dimensional diagnosis combined with social barriers and ableist beliefs can paint a picture of a person who is lacking or devoid of many things, including joy. But that kind of picture is itself devoid of the experience and fullness of being fully human, created in God’s image, known, and loved by God.
This third week of Advent, the week themed with “joy,” may also seem a paradox from a bird's eye view. How could joy be possible in all of this? But joy comes from the love of God, who is always present to us. And Advent now or in any time calls us to wait and watch, not only with despair but with abiding hope, peace, love, and yes, joy – even in, or especially in, some dark days. Like the twinkle lights remind us; like the hope summoned by the words of a kitchen table toddler: the paradox of Advent in the story of human hardship across time, is that there is good news amidst all of the bad or uncertain. There is rest for the weary; there is light in the darkness. There is joy in the presence and love of God who sees us and knows us, even when we may get lost and forget. There is the one for whom we wait, who is always present in the bustling, conflicted, weary world, who comes into the night to bring about another day – a new day. God with us and among us, in most vulnerable human form: a paradox like no other.
May we wait and watch for not just unexpected events, but also for unexpected joy in the midst of hard times. May we expect joy as we reflect on the ways we have known this love, and this presence, through these months and these days, in the simple yet extraordinary gift of being in another day, and in this extraordinary time of waiting for Jesus, the light of the world. This is no ordinary Advent. But it has never been.
The nighttime means another day is coming.
Come, Lord Jesus, and may the weary world rejoice. Amen.
*Paradox: a situation, person, or thing that combines contradictory features or qualities
Kathy Dickson lives in Bluffton, Ohio, where she attends First Mennonite Church of Bluffton. Kathy has a Master of Divinity degree from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. Her interests include the theology of disability and the gifts that people with disabilities bring to the body of Christ. She is Director of Vocational Discernment and Community Engagement for Methodist Theological School in Ohio, Delaware, Ohio. Kathy also serves as a field associate for ADN.