An Advent Lament



Each December, we find ourselves in a season of waiting. Primarily, we wait for that baby to be born, to break through the bonds of water and blood and slither down into the dust from which we all emerged. We wait for the baby, the infant conqueror, the one who shows up not as mighty warrior but as a small and helpless human person.

It is the most remarkable story ever told, this one we share.  Scandalous, even ludicrous—a grand and mighty God showing up, looking like the rest of us, squalling, searching for sustenance, blinking against the light. The birth of a baby is always cause for celebration, and this one certainly deserves to be celebrated.

And yet, there is also an undercurrent of sadness swirling beneath the pretty decorations and the sweet smells. An undercurrent that rattles around in my soul and lurks in the corners of my heart, pushing me to pay attention, to make room. Room for the babe in the manger, yes. But also, room for the painful details, both then and now, room for the tears, the anguish, the questions and the loss.

Because there is always loss, isn’t there? This journey we’re on is littered with broken hearts, with pocketed tears and too many regrets. So I wonder—this Christmastime, amid the major key sounds of the pop music that bombards us everywhere we go, can we also make room for the echo of an oboe? Can we sit with some minor chords that might not resolve anytime soon?

Truth be told, there are pieces of our Christmas story that would not sell many Hallmark cards: a captive nation, refugees on the road, poverty, homelessness, murderous kings and the wholesale slaughter of little boys. And right now, this year, amid the joyous gathering of family, the feasting, the children’s sweet singing, the giving of gifts, there are so many swallowed tears, there are questions, there is sadness.

There is, most assuredly, room for lament:

And so, I sing the hard news as well as the good,
the edges as well as the center.
And I sing it all to you, O Lord—to whom else can I go?

Hear me, O Lord. Hear my cry!
Here is the truth: those we love leave us, Lord.
They leave us in all kinds of painful ways:
they die, suddenly or after long suffering;
they betray us with false words and false hearts;
they get lost in the thicket of mental illness.

Sometimes we lose ourselves, too, O God:
we do battle with addictions;
we wrestle with confusion;
we sink into depression or anxiety.

Too often, those who say they love you,
betray you with their words and their actions.
And sometimes, the betrayer is me.

Our children suffer, too, O Lord.
Some of them starve—
not enough food,
not enough love,
not enough hope.

And the children who live inside of us,
the ones we used to be,
they cry out in fear, in need of comfort,
in need of help.

Where are you in all of this?
“Why are you so far from saving us?”

We need to be saved, O Lord.
We need to be saved from ourselves.

We need to be found, O Lord.
Seen, held, understood.

Which is why you came in the first place, isn’t it?
The whole story kind of hinges on that piece.

If I were you,
I might have done it differently.
Maybe a cushier entry into this crazy world of ours,
a softer landing.

(Does everything have to be so hard?
Even for you?)

Then again, maybe that’s the point.
You do see us, you do hear our cries,
and you acknowledge all our pain
in the best possible way …
by joining in the journey, walking right beside us,
becoming one of us.
Thank you, thank you.

Of course, I am still sad, O Lord.
I still weep with my friend who lost her husband;
I still wonder about the young mom struggling through cancer;
the little boy with half a heart;
the family that lost their home;
the marriage that ended badly;
the presence of racism and sexism and hatred,
all around me and also within me.

I still wrestle with it all.

But I don’t wrestle alone, do I?

So I will sing the song of lament
and I will sing the song of thanksgiving,
and I will learn to hold them both together.

For you are my help, O Lord,
even when I am sad and discouraged.
You are my help, O Lord,
my strength, my song, and my hope.