For much of my life, I was not a morning person. When I was the pastor of a small congregation in California, I often skipped mornings in the office altogether, shifting my work time to afternoons and evenings. Of course, there were always a few early mornings that couldn’t be avoided. My church had a tradition of gathering for sunrise services on Easter morning, a tradition they finally sunsetted after their bleary-eyed pastor completely flubbed the scripture reading one year. The text was supposed to be about resurrection, but I opened my Bible to the wrong chapter. I proceeded to read a rather esoteric passage in which God releases the Christians from traditional Hebrew dietary restrictions. In a dream, God shows Peter all sorts of animals and tells him to “kill and eat.” When I realized that I had just uttered the words “kill and eat” to a bunch of people dressed up in their Easter finery, I was suddenly very awake—and very mortified.
In recent years I have refashioned myself into a morning person, but I still detest the moment my alarm goes off. Especially during these months of rising while it is still pitch dark. Sometimes I awaken easily—I silence the alarm, fumble for my glasses, grab my yoga gear and off I go. But other times the journey back to consciousness is accompanied by a deep disorientation.
For a fleeting moment, I don’t know where I am. Indeed, I barely know who I am.
It’s been worse these last few years. I haven’t had so many bad dreams since I was a little girl. My subconscious is clearly a bit hysterical. It masterfully transforms the raw material of the daily news into nightmarish scenarios. One night, after I’d been lamenting the misogyny that has resurfaced in the public sphere, I dreamed that all the women were dying. As in, all the women. Everywhere. Dying. I struggled to shake off the terror of the dream. It clung to me even as morning dawned and consciousness returned. Another night, an innocuous noise in the house jolted me into a state of momentary panic.
I am a pastor, and it’s hard to know how to preach in this season of upheaval. It is a slow burn apocalypse. Advent has been especially tough. I have wanted to proclaim the good news of Isaiah: in the days to come, all the peoples of the world will stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house, and there shall be peace. But it’s hard to speak of peace while talking around our national unrest. I have wanted to echo the promise that salvation is near and daybreak is coming. But it’s impossible to speak of the dawn without naming the darkness.
I am a pastor, and it’s hard to know how to preach in this season of upheaval. This slow burn apocalypse.
No matter how many paragraphs I drafted and deleted, no matter how many angles I considered and rejected, I could not conjure sermons about hope that did not name the conditions that are causing many to despair.
I wish Advent could give us a moment of respite from all the tumult, that our sanctuaries could be safe places in which to hide away from the drama and trauma. Certainly, the Church must proclaim the good news—as it is spoken by prophets and apostles, and most especially as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. But it is awfully futile to contemplate the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love with any integrity without acknowledging anxiety, anger, distress, and hostility. It would be nearly as bewildering as hearing the wrong scripture on Easter Sunday.
In another classic Advent text, the apostle Paul writes to the Romans: now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. Paul sounds the alarm, rousing us from our restless slumber. Wake up, he says, for salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers. God is up to something. This seems an impossible dream, but this is precisely why Paul is so insistent that we open our eyes. If God is up to something, we should pay attention.
Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Not only that, we should be a part of it. Somehow, in the midst of the darkness, we’re to be bearers of light. Somehow, in the midst of war and rumors of war, we’re to be makers of peace. Somehow, while discord and disunity drag our spirits low, we’re supposed to turn our face to the mountain of God.
But I am so tired these days. When the wake up call sounds and the invitation to join the resistance arrives, there is still a part of me that wants to roll over, bury my head in the pillow, and sleep. My nightmares might actually be preferable to the New York Times headlines.
I know the cold facts. If I stay asleep to the world, I stay asleep to what God is doing in it. If I hide from the darkness, I hide from the light. This is Advent during the crucible of a pandemic, a global mental health crisis, a climate catastrophe. This is Advent when things are too far gone to pretend otherwise. This is Advent when we really, no really, need to wake up to the sound of a trumpet.
Come, Lord Jesus.
Editor’s note: This piece was originally published as Advent in a Time of Darkness, a title that was chosen by the Bearings Online editorial team. After publication, one of our readers challenged us to see how equating darkness with something inherently wrong is anti-Black and causes harm to Black communities. We are very glad to have it brought to our attention and will read and edit essays with this in mind going forward. We apologize for perpetuating this stereotype and thank our reader community for calling us to do better. For further learning on how light/dark dualities are harmful, please read Embracing the Light & the Darkness in the Age of Black Lives Matter by The Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney.