Facing Darkness/Finding Hope

by Christie Shumate McElwee

On the first day of December, I lit a candle, hoping the ceremony would brighten the gloom of a cold, windy morning. In the quiet I pondered the hectic past few days: the hours of organization and prep that led to family gathered around our Thanksgiving table, the crowds of shoppers my mother and I circumvented in the historic part of town on Friday, and the containers of leftover food still in our refrigerator. I sat in the stillness while listening to soothing traditional carols. I ignored my December to-do lists. A new morning. A new day. A new month.

December is the darkest month leading towards the shortest day. Even though bright lights twinkle from every street, melancholy often creeps into filled calendars of festivities. What can we do with our sadness when everything around us screams “Celebrate, damnit!”? Sometimes it is wise to sit with our grief, our brokenness, our mistakes, and slowly, quietly, and oh, so carefully, begin to forgive ourselves.

Maybe this is what Advent is all about: leaning into heartache, acknowledging pain, practicing hope. Many churches drape altars in purple during Advent, a color that denotes both royalty and repentance. During this hectic time, maybe we should wrap ourselves in that heavy purple. The darkness and weight of the material can remind us light is within reach. We forage for repentance, asking forgiveness for our snarky voices, petty minds, and selfish hearts. 

Maybe Advent is just an audacious feat of hope. Some of us find it in scriptures or a church pew. Others may hear it in a cat’s purr, the wind’s whisper, or Handel’s “Messiah.” Or perhaps it is discovered in the quiet of an early winter morning as one candle illuminates all the world’s despair…and wonder.

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” ~Bill McKibben

“The word advent means ‘expectation.’ What advent can do for us is create a sense of hope.” ~Louis Giglo

“Our response to the wrongness of the world (and of ourselves) can often be an unhealthy escapism, and we can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve – to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope.” ~ Tish Harrison Warren, priest in the Anglican Church in North America and writer in residence at the Church of Ascension in Pittsburgh

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