On the first Sunday of Advent, we light a candle that represents hope. I asked a young father to light the candle for our worship service. It was fitting: his six-year-old son had been fighting brain cancer for two years. Through all the ups and downs of diagnosis, regression, and relapse, these parents held firmly to the belief that God not only could, but also would heal their son; the very picture of faithful, trusting hope to our congregation. We came alongside them in prayer and fasting. “Any day now, God,” we would pray. “We are ready to see your miracle. Show your glory.”
Shortly after lighting the candle of hope, the boy returned to the hospital. We gathered in the tiny chapel and praised God. Still waiting. Still expecting the miracle. Then he died. I found myself trying to plan a worship service themed around joy (the third week of Advent) while thinking, “We live in a world where six-year-olds are cut down by cancer.”
How could I sing of the joy of Advent on this of all weeks? It seemed wrong, even offensive, until I remembered that Advent is not only about the wait for the first Christmas. The joy we express in Advent is a joy not yet realized. Israel longed for a savior, but did not yet see him. We long for his return, but he has not yet come again. In Advent, we acknowledge and name this tension. We remember the wait for the first Christmas because we are still waiting.
Scripture tells us that all of creation groans with this same longing. The promise of Christ’s return is not only for humanity, and not only for earth. It’s for humans, plants, animals, dirt. Every planet. Every star. This whole world is bound up in decay and corruption, but it will not remain this way forever. Heaven and earth will be made new. All will be restored. All will be made right.
As I watched those parents mourn, I prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And somewhere, lightyears away, a dying star shines that same prayer with its last light. Come, Lord Jesus.
And so we see the rhythm of Advent in the loss of a child: Hope. God, we know that you can heal our son. Peace. Father, we know that his life is in your hands. Joy. Our son is dead; this too will be made right. Love. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Christ. “Surely I am coming soon.”
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.