[Bobby Gross lives in Atlanta. He is the author of “Living the Christian Year”.]
Bobby Gross approaches Advent like this:
If Advent is a time of watching for signs of hope and waiting for the light of Christ, the time for God to enlarge us with His quiet presence, how can we enter into this season and let it enter into us? The approach I have embraced is to give myself two permissions, practice two disciplines, and cultivate two postures.
Permission to Sing and Permission to Groan
Our experience of the weeks of December can vary widely, depending on our disposition and situation. Some of us are readily caught up in the festive atmosphere. Kids are released from school, lights and decorations sparkle, gifts and cards arrive, friends throw parties, we gather with extended family and a generous impulse rises in us. We do want peace on earth and feel good will toward others. All this makes us want to sing.
Some of us, however, readily feel the weight of these days—the obligations, the drift into depression, the pull of temptation, the anxiety of difficult relationships, the resurfacing grief over those we’ve lost, the discouragement from daily headlines. We feel cynical in the midst of all the holiday hoopla and superficiality. It makes us want to groan.
The dual nature of Advent invites both songs and groans.
Imagine, with Isaiah’s help, life in the world to come, the new Jerusalem: a place with no wrenching losses, tearful memories or cries of despair, a place where every baby grows up healthy and every person lives a long and fruitful life, a place where all work is meaningful and the economics are always just, a place where the environment is unspoiled and its creatures unthreatened, a place where each of us knows a joyful intimacy with God (Isaiah 65:17-25).
And let your heart sing!
Then open your eyes to every contemporary sign of such shalom, such full-orbed peace and well-being, in the world around you and in your own life. We see and sing for joy.
Paul, too, speaks of “glory about to be revealed” but not without acknowledging “the sufferings of this present time” (see Romans 8:18-25). The whole creation, the very cosmos, groans as if in labor. There will be the birth of a new order, free from the decaying devastation and disease we see now. Not only creation; we ourselves groan. We see the corruption of our world and we know the corruption within ourselves, our own moral flaws and our own part in what is wrong. We see and groan in lament.
So in your Advent prayers, give yourself permission to sing and permission to groan. Remember that the sweet taste of shalom during Advent is only that, a taste; it is not the full feast yet to come. And the groans induced by our sufferings are not the final sounds; one day they will be subsumed into a chorus of glory.
So sing and let your songs be joyful longings; groan and let your cries be hopeful laments.