I have never intentionally set out to practice Advent before this year. It is a time when we anticipate the coming of Jesus before Christmas. Where we wait in anticipation and reflect on hope, peace, joy, and love. Each Sunday, a different candle is lit and each week another candle is added as a remembrance of what is to come – the birth of our Saviour. This year, with COVID restrictions, we have not been able to gather as a church in the way we have been used to. So at The Dale we decided to make Advent packages and distribute them to our congregation in hopes that we could celebrate the Advent season together, but apart. For weeks leading up to the first Sunday of Advent, we each took a week on as a staff team. We wrote a prayer and a chose a bible verse to reflect on. We picked songs, made colouring pages, and packed candles into bags. We gave them out to our community and we started a few Sundays ago now of waiting together in this season.
The first two Sundays, Ian and I practiced these Advent traditions together, lighting one purple candle the first week for Hope and lighting another the week after for Peace. We read the prayers and verses, listened to the songs, and coloured in the book. Hope and Peace – two things that weren’t easy to reflect on given the current times but in the spirit of being intentional we did try and found some hope and peace in those weeks that brought a lot of comfort.
On the third Sunday of Advent, Ian’s mother Katharyn unexpectedly passed away. The third week of Advent is the week of Joy. I can tell you that it has been hard to find. Joy… I literally just googled the meaning of joy and found a lot about a deep rooted happiness. Was happiness lingering this week? Definitely not. In my heart I know that joy comes from the Lord – from his goodness. When bad things happen to us, we know that God remains God and that He is good. I also know that when you are sat in deep sorrow, joy feels further away. We wait in this season of Advent now on a week meant to be reflected on Joy, in a sense of despair grasping for answers that have yet to be found – on why Katharyn passed and how. How could this happen now? There are so many things that have been going on in our family behind the scenes that I will leave private. But I will tell you that waiting in anticipation with Joy is a practice that we have been sorely lacking in.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we celebrated Katharyn’s life. The fourth Sunday represents Love. She was and is loved by a variety of people who miss her with a sense of urgency that comes with walking in grief. To remember her life is to find love in who she is, in the memories we hold, and the way that her heart carried love for her family. The love that she had for her family runs very deep.
This week our family was touched by many people, near and far. We were given practical nourishment – food, coffee, and gifts of love. We were given spiritual nourishment – prayer, cards, comfort, support, and calls. These things are helping me remember the past two weeks of Advent that I was missing. Joy – a sense that God is good even in difficult circumstance. And Love – His love for us fills the cracks of sadness and fills us up and reaches for us when we feel like shutting out and shutting down.
These weeks have been very difficult… these months have been very difficult. As we walk through life holding hands with a new sense of deep grief, we are living in a time with vibrant lights, happy songs, and a joyful demeanour – Christmas is around the corner. It has been such a jarring thing to walk each day in sorrow being surrounded by the anticipation of Christmas. It is in these times that I hold fast not to the anticipation of Christmas as we know it societally. But of the anticipation of Christ our Saviour. This is where the worldly Joy that I wasn’t feeling can be brought in through the Joy of God’s goodness. Where the Love that seemed to be dripping in tears can be made whole again. Where Peace and Hope don’t just come in dreaming of a better new year, but of a Kingdom that will one day come. This is where I rest in my Advent season. It has not been perfect, but it continues on whether we keep up or not. And He waits with me and my family, holds us closer when we need it, and brings people in that really know and care.
Peace to you this week… thank you if you have prayed for us, come alongside us, and joined us this week in grief. We needed you, and we are finding comfort in your care.