By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge
“I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us,” writes the prophet Isaiah in today’s Hebrew text (Isaiah 63:7-9).
This passage is part of a larger group of scriptures called a communal lament. This passage, scholars say, was probably written to remind the Hebrew people of their time in exile in Babylon after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This passage, however, appears alongside material believed to be written after the Jews had returned to their homeland, so this lament is meant to remind them of probably one of the worst events in their history at that time.
Which is why it makes this passage a good one to read over the holidays, especially as we wrap up our season of Advent. This church season begins four weeks before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
Advent is meant to be a time of waiting, a time of anticipation, a time to reflect on what this world is like without the light of God breaking through into our otherwise bleak existence.
Actually, that sounds a lot like holiday depression – our own personal darkness taking hold of us in an otherwise dark season all around. But, what Advent invites us to do is this – while we anticipate the light of the Holy breaking forth in the birth of this tiny baby, we start to learn how to live our life “as if.” Advent reminds us to live “as if” Christ is already here. Advent invites us to live “as if” the darkness of exile and depression is already lifted. Advent invites us to live in the light right here, and right now, even when everything around us seems to be dark and gloomy.
All that living “as if” may make it sound like I’m saying that we should not live in the present. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Paradoxically, to live “as if” means paying even more attention to the present moment. The only place we can truly live is right here and right now. By paying close attention to what’s happening now, we can get a glimmer of what is to come.
By reminding themselves of how horrible life was during exile, the Jews knew that it could easily happen again. Anyone who has dealt with depression knows that, even in the happy times, that darkness lurks right around the corner, ready to pounce at the first opportune moment. But, remembering the dark times and giving them our full attention when they are present is key to overcoming them, because even in the midst of our darkest night there is still a glimmer of light that invites us to “lighten up” in the deepest sense of the phrase.
So, when the sad times come, be present to them. How can you be aware, even in the midst of broken hopes and dreams, that new hopes and dreams are being kindled? Are you, right now, making the connections — physically, mentally and spiritually — that you need to live into the future fully aware? Are you learning what you’ll need — physically, mentally and spiritually — when your future arrives?
Most importantly, are you willing to be clumsy in pursuit of your goals? Are you will to stop trying to look like you walk unafraid, and admit that, most of the time you are basically scared to death?
Here’s the secret: We’re all scared to death. We’re all afraid that we’ll do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, make the wrong choice or dream the wrong dream. Here’s the other secret: There really are no mistakes that you can make that are so dire you can’t turn them around and learn something from them.
We’re all staggering clumsily down this road we call life, and the truth is we could all use a little help and we could all use a little encouragement to live fully in the present even as we anticipate our “as if” lives.
Our ancient Hebrew cousins knew this. “It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them,” Isaiah told them. “In his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
Even when we feel like there is no hope and that we’ll never dig our way out of our deepest depression – the Holy is there – present and ready to lift us up and carry us into our “as if” future.