Tonight I asked our students to list the bad news they know about right now. Here are a few items they mentioned: the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe; the ongoing suffering in Mumbai; a double homicide here in Ames (one of the victims had recently finished and moved into her Habitat home, and some of the students worked on the house); the economy; the corruption arrest of the governor of Illinois; the ice coating every surface on campus; the projects, papers and tests looming between tonight and the end of finals next week...
It went on for a while. There's not been a lot of good news lately. It feels like we're waiting for something better. And I wonder if that's what this Advent season is about. Perhaps that's why I don't feel out of place this year: it's not the orgy of materialism and manufactured festivity that usually turns my stomach. Why rail against secular consumerism when no one can afford to buy gifts in the first place?
In his book Loving Jesus, Mark Allan Powell writes,
Somebody once asked me, "What does it feel like to be a Christian?" That seemed like an odd question, but I tried to answer. I said, "It feels like being in love with someone who has gone away." They said, "That can't be very pleasant." Well, no, I don't think it's supposed to be pleasant, but it is pretty powerful. I am in love with my wife, and when she is gone, I think about her constantly. I perk up at any news of her and I am energized by the slightest connection (a letter, a phone call). That's what being a Christian "feels like." Of course, it is a confident sadness..., but for now let's just admit this much: we love Jesus as a bride loves her groom, but our bridegroom has been taken away from us, and that makes us sad. The love can be real and powerful and overwhelming, but the absence is real too. And, sometimes, it's just hard.
As we gathered tonight, we remembered that in this season of Advent, we do more than remember the birth of our Messiah: we also gather in anticipation of the day when He will come again. As good as this life can be (and when there are twenty college students gathered for evening prayer on an icy Wednesday night, it's good indeed), the day we hope is coming will be better still. As Isaiah says, "The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Even now, as our hollow human strength is broken, Isaiah reminds me that we are not alone. Those who heard these words from the prophet were surrounded by the wasteland that had been Jerusalem, but they stood on holy ground: the place where God would begin making all things new. But we pray that the day of remaking may come, soon, that night will be no more. E'en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come. Amen.