What does the time spent anticipating Christmas have to do with the wilderness?
People are rarely neutral about the approach of Christmastime. Some of us reside at a North Pole of intense anticipation and excitement, while others of us hole up at a South Pole of irritation and dread.
Usually, I am at the north end of the Christmas polarity. But there have been a few Advent seasons during which I have found myself at the South Pole, feeling strangely empty and somehow exhausted by all the hoopla. The first couple of Christmases after my dad died were like that for me. And while I was fortunate enough to have excited children in my home to drag me back into the festivities, I did get a little taste of the sadness that characterizes Advent for many people.
A season that is all about family can be a desperately lonely time for people who find themselves living in isolation, grieving the loss of a loved one, or trying to cope with family stress. And for those of us who follow the church calendar, if Advent happens to come at a time when we are in a spiritually barren place, the call to open up our hearts to the season can intensify our experience of doubt or alienation.
Undoubtedly, some people are just not “feeling it” this Advent, due to temperament or circumstance or who knows what. Perhaps the season finds you at a South Pole of sadness or in a wilderness of spiritual alienation. If that’s the case, it’s important to remember that Advent is a season all about longing and emptiness and waiting. It is a season set aside to help us realize that we need deliverance from our current condition.
Not coincidentally, two of this year’s Old Testament and the New Testament lectionary readings—Isaiah 40 and Mark 1—each begin in the same place. They are both set in the wilderness. …