It’s only been a month and I am still reeling from the US presidential election. I feel like I’m just beginning to emerge from the sense of loss and futility that has cloaked me. But I am beginning to move forward.
I don’t feel better. I’m still confused and discouraged about why people voted for Donald Trump. I’m very concerned about his cabinet picks and his proposed policies. But I am actively seeking a path forward and a path of resistance. I’m finding support in my spiritual practices and communities.
In the Christian calendar, we are in the season of Advent. Advent carries profound symbolism, and this year it is especially poignant for me. The word advent bears meanings of arrival, birth, and emergence. It’s the beginning of the Christian year, which is patterned on the life of Christ, but the year does not begin Jesus’ birth. That celebration is observed at Christmas, four weeks into the church year. The weeks preceding Christmas are a time of preparation and reflection on the need for the Incarnation. The Incarnation of God in the Christ Child may be a distinctly Christian doctrine, but I believe the need for it–even the idea of it–is found in other spiritual and religious teachings.
Incarnation is the meeting of the divine and human in response to our world’s great need and suffering. It is a gift of love and fulfillment of expectation for the divine presence in a troubled time. In my adult life, I’ve increasingly realized how a celebration of the Incarnation can be deepened by moving slowly towards it, taking the time before it to reckon with historical and contemporary losses, frustrations, and harms. Advent becomes a time to reveal our need of the divine. Perhaps we need to hide our vulnerability from some people around us. But this season that invites us to be open to God, to sing “O come to us, abide with us, our God with us.”*
I have been fortunate to sing this and other Advent songs of longing with my loving family and many dear church communities through the years. This year, I have been able to express my sadness and sense of loss with not only my church and family, but new communities of scholars and friends. I’ve shared my grief with you, my FAR community. After the election, I lost some hope in our progress towards social justice. I’m worried that our world will become even more dangerous for people who are already targeted, scapegoated, and blamed for America’s “decline.” In the wake of the election, I realized that misogyny, racism, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, and xenophobia are deeper than I had perceived them to be. I was discouraged, but my communities reached back with messages of hope.
Hope is too often thrown around as a buzzword that means something like “Cheer up!” or “Look on the bright side!” But the hope of a mature faith requires first recognizing what is deeply broken. And then it should lead to creating an alternative vision and a way of bringing it about. Advent rituals can cultivate this active sense of hope.
There’s a Christian ritual of lighting candles on an Advent wreath each Sunday preceding Christmas; four individual candles represent hope, faith (or preparation), joy, and love. On Christmas Eve, the conclusion of Advent, a fifth candle, representing Jesus is lit. During the first two weeks of the season this year at my church, we’ve had some challenges with the Advent candles. First, there was a problem with candles themselves. They were the wrong kind, which led to one of my friends hollowing out the candles’ cores and inserting non-allergenic votives in them. Then, when after a family the first candle during our Sunday church service, the flame died out. Someone else came forward to light it again. The candle burned out again. Our minister came to light it once more. The flame continued to struggle. So he eventually lit a different candle on the opposite side of the wreath. I’ll admit, it was a little comical. But when a similar situation occurred the following week, I found a new symbolism to it: When hope dies, find a way to re-light it. This is our task.
Advent is about waiting for the Light of the World. Christians light reminders of hope, faith, joy, and love as we wait and prepare for the arrival of divine mystery and love. When those flames go out, we light them again. We keep trying. We make another way. We do it again and again and find another way until hope can be sustained.
This season, I hope you find ways to rekindle any flames of love, faith, and expectation that have been extinguished. And also, I ask you to remember that we are ALREADY light ourselves, even while we work for a brighter future.
Elise M. Edwards, PhD is a Lecturer in Christian Ethics at Baylor University and a graduate of Claremont Graduate University. She is also a registered architect in the State of Florida. Her interdisciplinary work examines issues of civic engagement and how beliefs and commitments are expressed publicly. As a black feminist, she primarily focuses on cultural expressions by, for, and about women and marginalized communities. Follow her on twitter, google+ or academia.edu.
*These words are in the carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” but I’ve altered them slightly. The words typically read, “O Come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” Emmanuel means “God with us.”
Categories: Advent, Belief, Christianity, Christmas, Christology, Community, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, God, Healing, holiday, Jesus, Liturgy, Love, meditations, Resistance, Ritual, Seasons, Social Justice, Spiritual Journey, Symbols