Barren, brown ground and leafless trees are my landscape as I stare absently through the bus window. I’m on my way to visit my parents, taking a Greyhound bus from Boston to Rochester, New York. I am not a bus traveler, preferring the imagination that planes and airports afford to the bleak of bus stations, seemingly always in depressed downtown areas, where any attempts to make them nice feel thwarted by economics and defeat.
The landscape feels absent, void, lifeless. It is a picture of a world waiting.
And December, above all, is a month of waiting. Some of this waiting is hopeful and some of it is terrible. The hopeful waiting comes in white lights and kitchens that smell of butter and cinnamon, Carols that speak of a coming King, hushed churches filled with candle light. The terrible waiting comes in the form of diagnoses of cancer and news of death; in the people who still occupy the streets, despite cold and snow; in the knowing we are part of a world broken, not yet fixed.
Yesterday I found out that someone dear to me is full of the insidious parasite that goes by the name of cancer. I found out just as I was ready to board a crowded subway that would take me home at the end of a tedious workday. Tears filled my eyes, tears that I had to control because it wasn’t safe to cry. Not there. Not in a public space.
Later I heard the news of the death of Nelson Mandela, a man whose commitment to forgiveness and reconciliation was a challenge and model. A man whose death will be felt by his nation and the world.
If Shakespeare were to write a play about December it would be a mixture of tragedy and joy. Why is it that so much hard news comes in December? Why is it that this is when the body is found to be so full of cancer that a person’s lifespan is suddenly reduced to months not years? Why is it that marriages are at their most fragile during this time? Why is it that even as we wrap presents, we are aware that next year, the person we love will no longer be with us?
The calls for happiness that assault us from television screens and advertising seem at best irrelevant, at worst like a mockery of our grief.
Yet isn’t this life in all its complexity? One weeps while the other shouts for joy; one has plenty and the other crawls their way to a homeless shelter; one has health while the other faces death. One land has peace while the other has war.
So as I look out the window and see barren from a land that just weeks ago was filled with the brilliance of fall colors, I think of Advent. For Advent is about waiting, about coming, about expectancy. It is hope combined with longing. It is joy combined with sorrow. It is living between the already here and the not yet. Advent is December in all of its contrasts, all of its paradoxes, The sorrow is strong, but hope is stronger still.
No longer will violence be heard in your land,
nor ruin or destruction within your borders,
but you will call your walls Salvation
and your gates Praise.
The sun will no more be your light by day,
nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you,
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun will never set again,
and your moon will wane no more;
the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of sorrow will end.
Then all your people will be righteous
and they will possess the land forever.
They are the shoot I have planted,
the work of my hands,
for the display of my splendor.
The least of you will become a thousand,
the smallest a mighty nation.
I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.” Isaiah 60: 18-22
Note: Fridays with Robynn will be back next week. Robynn is in India and says this: “Tandoori Chicken from a street side food cart on day one. Taxi rides through crowded city streets on day two. Sweet reunions with wonderful friends. We are having, quite literally, the time of our lives! Thanks for your prayers and well wishes!”