I wonder if part of my annoyance with Christmas lights going up earlier and earlier in the season is because they obscure the darkness we actually need to rest and grow. Glaring lights that we put in our porches, trees and balconies may bring temporary holiday cheer, but they may also prevent us from delving into our deeper questions, our uncomfortable emotions and our persistent anxieties.
Hope is one such complicated emotion that can be obscured by those bright lights. In the four-week Christian season of Advent, Hope is the theme of the first week, marked by one tiny candle lit on the Advent Wreath. The dark backdrop to Hope’s single candle allows us to more easily see hope. Just like the stars you can see much more easily in the darkened sky away from city lights, one can see, feel, experience hope most easily amidst challenge, despair or crisis. Just think of the story of Jesus’ birth itself — a baby boy born to very young, Hebrew parents forced to travel during the last days of Mary’s pregnancy for a census enforced by their Roman occupiers. Soon after Jesus’ birth (in Matthew’s account), they are forced to go into hiding in Egypt, because those same occupiers are threatening to kill him because he is predicted to be the next Hebrew king. Jesus is one tiny light of hope shining amidst a background of oppression, violence and occupation.
I have spent more than a decade working with churches in a state of decline. Some of them gloss over this uncomfortable reality by hanging the shiny lights and moving forward as they always have. But others do not see the light of hope they cast in the small, but significant ministries they do in their communities. Offering a small, but much-needed food pantry or after-school tutoring program may seem like tiny contributions; but, they are tiny, shiny beacons of hope — just like Jesus was to the oppressed Hebrews in a Roman-occupied land.
In this first week of Advent, I invite you to lean into the darkness, the pain, the loss, whatever unpleasant feelings you might be experiencing, and light the candle of hope in order to see the possibilities. As Poet Jericho Brown said in a profound interview this past year on the radio podcast, On Being, “Hope is always accompanied by the imagination, the will to see what our physical environment seems to deem impossible. Only the creative mind can make use of hope. Only a creative people can wield it.”
Join me on this creative journey of hope (and peace, joy and love) this Advent season. If you sign up for my email list, you will receive a free copy of “A Mindful Advent: Four Practices for the Lighting of the Advent Wreath” that I wrote combining mindfulness practices with the Christian practice of lighting an Advent wreath. I will also be leading these Mindful Advent practices each Sunday in Advent at 8 p.m. ET on Facebook Live on my Nicole Havelka Consulting Facebook page.