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Leaning into the Tension

We are a culture that fears the uncomfortable, looks for the easy option, and is quickly distracted by the latest shiny bauble. We are a culture that does whatever it can to avoid being confronted by the darkness and evil that surrounds us, to live in denial of the atrocities occurring even in our own communities. We are a culture that is quick to lay blame for the struggles of other humans at their feet rather than consider our own part in supporting systems that have created and maintained injustice. We don’t want to see or feel truth.

Our place is with lambs and lions,
Paradox and peace,
Written into the world by your very Word.
This mountain of the Lord,
Where virgins give birth,
Where wise men bow to infants
and tyrants are foiled by them,
Where kings sleep in barns.
—Christopher Wheeler, “Spill,” from “Reflections for Advent,” p. 18

This is why the church needs the season of Advent. This is why I need Advent. Instead of jumping to the superficial “joy” of the Christmas ditties played 24/7, Advent invites us to sit in and with the darkness of the world, to see it, to name it. Advent invites us to lean into the tension between the bright lights and shiny baubles of the commercialized Christmas and the reality of all that is not as it should be.

I know that as worship leaders and pastors you often experience pressure to jump into the Christmas season and skip over Advent. I realize that some in your church would prefer not to slow down and sit in the darkness and not be confronted by the evil of this world. But many others are silently lamenting and wondering if the church sees and cares about their hurts and struggles. Many wonder if the church has anything to say about the atrocities that are happening and the injustice that pervades, or if the church is simply an outdated and irrelevant social club.

The Christian church needs Advent not only because it is a countercultural corrective but also because it is part of God’s story. If we want to understand the plot line and the ending of the story, we can’t skip the parts filled with tension. We need Advent because we need to sit with the darkness in order to understand our need for the light. We need to see the sin in this world and in our own lives to begin to grasp both the need for a Savior and the immensity of the hope that finds itself lying in a manger: God in human flesh. As Christopher Wheeler writes, we need Christ to “see beyond the actual to the true” (“Sift,” from “Reflections for Advent,” p. 17). I hope that in this issue of Reformed Worship you will find resources to help your worshiping community do just that.

This Advent let us all join in this prayer to Christ:
      Overcome us with Your paradox,
      Overjoy us in Your presence.
—Christopher Wheeler, “Kiss,” from “Reflections for Advent,” p. 19