This is the first in a series of blogs for the 2017 Advent season.
This year will be the first Christmas without my grandpa.
Since he passed on that hot afternoon in late August, my family has been making firsts. Dad turned 60 without him around. The first Thanksgiving came and went without him. His birthday was December 22 and it’ll come steadily into focus and then fade away just before Christmas – without him.
There’s a quiet emptiness that huddles in his place during these times. It’s a building ache that swells with reminders of him and deflates in the busyness of the present. Though our souls are at peace in the knowledge that he’s no longer suffering – that he’s in better shape than he was here, in his sickness – our bodies seem to absorb the low moments like bitter vinegar. They’re sour and pungent and they don’t do the tongue any favors when they slosh down.
I’m fortunate. If I was a trendier Christian, I might say that I’m “blessed.” I’m fortunate because my grandpa is the first nuclear family member I’ve lost in my 35 years on the planet. Not everyone has it so easy – you, reading this, you might have lost more than one. It wasn’t until this year that I truly understood what longing for someone who simply couldn’t be there felt like.
There’s a beauty in that longing. The beauty is not in the pain of loss or the longing itself; no, I think beauty is found in the shared experience of longing for a lost loved one. Those who know know and the specters of memories and customs and rituals that followed that person around dance palpably in the air but aren’t quite so haunting when pointed out. And discussed. And cherished. And laughed about.
There’s a parallel to this in Advent, however subtle. We, as the Church, mourn the loss of something maybe we never had. Our innocence. Some past obedience. A sense of righteousness once possessed now lost. We cry out, “God, are you done being angry with us?”
Instead of leaving us to wonder and remaining silent – like so many of our lost loved ones are destined to do – God has given us an answer. His answer is no hot air, and it’s no small thing. But it may not initially feel like much of a response. His answer? Well, it’s simple:
God has heard our longing. I think maybe it brings him joy that his children would long for him – not for the reasons they long, so much, but that they do. In his impeccable timing in which he proves faithful he eventually makes his home here, on the created earth he molded, in a created body he stitched. We’ll get to that, eventually.
After all…this is Advent not Christmas. Now is the season for a little bit of longing.