The bang of the gavel echoed throughout the courtroom. For a moment I felt as if I was dreaming. In a flash, nearly a decade of memories, experiences, friendships and my marriage began fading away like a morning mist disappears from a deep valley as the sun appears. As I exited the courtroom and made my way out of the courthouse I was greeted by the grayness of a December afternoon giving way to the approaching evening. A harsh blast of a cold easterly wind pelted my face with mist and snow. I didn’t really feel it, I didn’t feel anything—just the numbness of uncertainty, wondering what was next, what was I to do now?
I can’t tell you how long it took me to drive home that day, nor the route I took. I entered my house. It was dark and silent… empty. Items missing from the rooms and walls led to a deep mixture of emotions welling up inside me; anger, sadness, doubt, grief… uncertainty. Divorce is such a difficult thing. So many people impacted, so much physical and emotional devastation experienced. How was I to recover from this? This wasn’t how I expected my life to go.
Over two thousand years ago many Jews were wondering if the promises passed down from generation to generation would ever come true. In a land occupied by a tyrannical governor and the invading armies of Rome, the people lived in a state of fear and oppression—like a feeling of being abandoned and divorced from God. Is it any wonder that people were struggling with anger, sadness, doubt, grief … uncertainty?
Imagine the shepherd, the innkeeper, a young girl or the struggling carpenter looking into the darkness of the night sky and wondering, praying for the Lord God of Abraham to send a savior. Where was the “servant” the prophet Isaiah spoke of that would “bring justice to the nations” (42:1) and “gather Israel to himself” (49:5)? Where was the promised Messiah? This wasn’t the life they had expected.
Power, prestige, a show of strength were all qualities most Jews were looking for in the King/Savior promised to come. And yet isn’t God’s Story one of opposites and redemption… the first will be last, the weak become strong, the lost are found? Whether it be a tongue-tied fugitive like Moses, the betrayer Jacob, David the adulterous murderer, or Rahab the harlot, God takes the broken, outcast and weak and includes them as part of his eternal plan for the redemption of the world.
Advent is often understood to mean coming. People of the past, not unlike people of today, were looking for something or someone to come to turn their fortunes to what they “expected them to be.” All too often we hope for and anticipate an “Advent Event” not unlike the Jews of that day. We want the struggles and trials of this world to be whisked away. We look for relief from the muck and grime of this world. Yet Advent is so much more than that.
Advent reminds us of the promise that the “servant” of Isaiah would also suffer physical pain and humiliation (50:6; 52:14; 53:3-5,7) and that his suffering would help accomplish the work he was called to do by ultimately taking away the sins and guilt of others (53:4,5,10,11) through sacrificially giving his life. Advent signifies the coming of God’s salvation, as testified by Simeon when he sees and holds the child Jesus after waiting a lifetime. “For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
The revealed light was not the announcement of a powerful warrior-king for which many had yearned, but rather a weak and seemingly helpless child. God in flesh, Emmanuel— “God with us.” They didn’t get what they expected. All their woes weren’t fixed. They didn’t understand that lives would change forever because redemption had come.
Redemption is messy because the lives of those being redeemed are messy and often stay messy. No matter the struggles you face, or the life you have experienced, the Savior continues to come. He comes in the weakness and frailty of the child into this sin-stained world and redeems the angry, the sad, the grief-stricken, the hopeless, the lost. God reached down into this world in the person of his Son Christ Jesus and offered us something far greater than what we expected… to be washed white as snow, to be forgiven.
The coming Christ-child of two thousand years ago also came to me that dark and silent night in December a decade ago. Although he did not remove all the consequences of my divorce, he brought me hope. It was a hope that he wouldn’t count my mistakes against me even if others did. Hope that new beginnings can come from difficult circumstances. Hope that my sin does not define me or God’s plan for my life. Hope that one day, despite my sin, God will welcome me into eternity—all because of the One who came to us in Bethlehem.
Like those people of thousands of years ago, you may be waiting for the Savior to fix all your problems, to make the mess go away. The Lord may or may not allow that to happen. Maybe despite your redemption you will continue to face the consequences of your sin for the remainder of your life. Yet this is not the end, because in Christ even these consequences bear the promise of hope to come.
Brent Andrews serves Lutheran Brethren Seminary in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as Media Specialist and Information Services Librarian.