An Advent to What?

Are you listening? Why are you silent?

We are told to await a festive celebration of your Incarnation, but innocents are slaughtered in senseless war, people are so clouded by darkness that they kill for their god, and what is supposed to be a joyous celebration has been spit back in our faces and cast away by murder.

“Where are you God?” we cry. “Why do you not speak? Why must your creation suffer the pain of violence and of your silence?”

So tell me, is this an Advent to Paradise or to Hell?

It’s week one.
Ad te levavi animam meam.
To you I have lifted up my soul…

…but my soul is filled with pain and sorrow. These words that are supposed to be filled with an expectation of hope are instead filled with anticipation for more hurt.

They say “you rain down mercy and kindness,” but the headlines say, “55 killed in Uganda fighting between rebels,” “Syrians fleeing government advances in Aleppo shelled,” “Death toll from last month’s IS bombing in Iraq rises to 92.”

All I do is wait to see more news of more pain, more sorrow, more depression, more fear, more darkness.

This world seems less like a place that you have created and more like Milton’s hell:

…hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end…

It’s week one and the people in the church are praying about how you use the unlikely, but it is beginning to appear unlikely that you are using anyone.

They pray for ears to hear, but I hear nothing.
They pray for eyes to watch, but I see nothing.
They pray for you to be amidst us, but I feel nothing.
They pray about a season of joy, but I have no joy.
They pray in anticipation, but I anticipate no good, I have no hope, and I’m still waiting.

It’s week two.
Populus Zion, ecce Dominus veniet ad salvandas gentes
People of Zion, behold the Lord shall come to save the nations…

…but the longer we wait, the less likely it seems that you are coming. These words are supposed to be in expectation of peace are instead salt in the wounds the horrors this world causes.

They say there is a “message that prepares the way” and that they “eagerly await the kingdom of your Son, Jesus Christ,” but the headlines say, “5 Afghan teens in Sweden charged with raping Afghan boy,” “Indonesia earthquake death toll rises to 102,” “3 detectives killed, burned in southern Mexico.”

The message of a coming kingdom seems like a madman’s folly and a pitiful attempt at foolish optimism.

This world seems less like a place that you have created and more like Milton’s hell:

…where peace And rest can never dwell…

They pray for faith, but there doesn’t seem to be anything worth believing in.
They pray for your presence to be vocal, but there doesn’t seem to be even a hint of a whisper coming from you, so I’m still waiting.

It’s week three.
Gaudete in Domino semper
Rejoice in the Lord always…

…but that seems impossible right now. What is there to rejoice in when there is nothing but darkness, hurt, and anger?

They say “you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing” but the headlines say, “160 dead in collapsed Nigerian church, “Bomb kills 25 at Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral,” “101-year-old British man convicted of child sex offenses.”

There is only more brokenness, more affliction, more greed, and more atrocities. How can this be a joyful season when we silently sit and watch genocide occur, unable to do a thing but fall on our knees and cry?

This world seems less like a place that you have created and more like Milton’s hell:

…Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,…
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades…

They pray for you to “strengthen what is weak,” but every single day the weak are ground into finer dust beneath oppression.
They pray for you to “enrich the poor,” but every single day the poor are deprived of more.
They pray for you to “give hope to those who live in fear,” but every single day fear continues to incapacitate its victims, and we are still waiting.

It’s week four.
Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant iustum
Drop down dew, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness…

…because that is what we need right now.

They ask for you to “make our hearts leap with joy,” to “fill our mouths with songs of praise.” That is the only thing we can ask for because the headlines say, “3 injured in gunman’s attack at Zurich mosque,” “Truck rams into German Christmas market, killing 12 people,” “Islamic State claims responsibility for Berlin market attack.”

This world is broken, it is painful, it is filled with destruction and sorrow. There is no joy to be found here, there is nothing in this fractured world worth praising.

This world seems less like a place that you have created and more like Milton’s hell:

No light, but rather darkness visible…

I’m still waiting. We are all still waiting.

We pray, “Jesus, Emmanuel…be more than just a dream in our hearts,” because in this kind of world redemption seems like a fantasy.
We pray “save us, restore us,” because there is nothing we can do to save and restore ourselves.

But I must ask, are we listening?

Because what I hear amidst this chaos, turmoil, heartbreak, destruction, and pain is a cry for redemption. And this cry, this, is what shows that there is something to be redeemed. This pain of something that has fallen so far from the light is proof that it ought not be this way.

This world seems less like a place that you have created and more like Milton’s hell:

No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end

We listen for a thunderous sound from heaven, for a battle cry from a warrior god come to destroy evil, for a revolutionary to stand and shake the foundations of the earth, rebuking the world in a quake. And while God sometimes acts this way, and we certainly expect him to, this method is not guaranteed.

Do not forget that he entered into our humanity, quiet, humble, and unsuspecting. He joined us beneath human repression, he lived within turmoil, pain, and the agony of darkness.

But even though our Paradise was lost and it this world seems like Hell, the echoes of redemption grow ever louder. The Savior came to us while we were waiting, and he is ruler. Paradise was once lost, but it has now been regained:

Know therefore when [his] season comes to sit
On David’s Throne, it shall be like a tree
Spreading and over-shadowing all the Earth…
…And of [his] Kingdom there shall be no end…
…now [he] hast aveng’d Supplanted Adam, and by vanquishing
Temptation, hast regain’d lost Paradise,
And frustrated the conquest fraudulent…
…Hail Son of the most High, heir of both worlds,
Queller of Satan, on thy glorious work
Now enter, and begin to save mankind…

When you are convinced that God has finally been silenced, remember the Son, the Christ, came incarnate into bleak humanity. Feel the pain, the agony, the darkness, and fervently pray, but do not presume he is silent.

Remember that, though other voices are louder, on the good Friday when we were convinced God was silenced forever, a still small voice declared “it is finished” and the end of hell’s reign began.

Perhaps this is an Advent to Paradise after all.

Introit translations: 1, 2, 3, 4
Prayers: 1, 2, 3, 4

Inspired by:
Silence, by Shusaku Endo
Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, by John Milton

Above image of “Fall of the Rebel Angels”


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