Where to start?
Advent. The general definition of this word is arrival, but to Christians at least since the middle ages, it refers to the impending arrival of the Christ child. That is, waiting. For those of us in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere that waiting is associated with more cold dark nights than bright, sunny days,which somehow seems appropriate to me. Of course it would, having only lived at this latitude most of my days. The one advent I spent in close proximity to the equator, in New Delhi, my flip-flops and short-sleeves created a disconnect to my ability to settle down and wait for the birth of Jesus--though to be completely candid, that inability to settle might have also had more than to do with the romance God was orchestrating between a certain legal giant and me.
For the most part, though, there's something about waiting that makes me think of night. Hours stretch post-midnight, I'm certain they do. All the poets agree about this, that the hours seem longer and the dark grows darker, just before the dawn. So it seems absolutely appropriate that each year we (in the cold north winter, as the hymn goes) wait for Christmas during the shortest days of the year. Our niece in Finland, who will be with us for Christmas, wrote about the Finnish darkness the other day. She was glad to wake up to the first snow of the year, because the white of the snow lightens the unmitigated darkness, in a place where the sun barely rears its head this time of year. I have walked enough snow-covered streets, even in post-midnight hours, to understand how even the sky can lighten when snow falls. But the fact is, the world is dark in December. Dark and hibernating at best, and dead as a doornail (as Dickens would say) at worst.
Yet this is exactly the best place to start. Our Christ-vigil, I mean. Our Advent waiting. We have to start with the truth that the world and everything in it is dark and in the longest hours before dawn where there is only the faintest glimmer of hope and not a whit of light. As it was in the world all the centuries when a Messiah was promised but didn't appear. The prophecies kept coming--in the 8th century BC, the 6th, the 5th, and still no light dawned. To us all that Old Testament time might seem condensed, but it stretched backwards from Jesus almost 4000 years. That's a whole, whole, whole lot of darkness. Not only that, but between the last book (chronologically)in the Old Testament (Nehemiah) and Jesus' birth was about 400 years. We have some apocryphal literature during those 400 years, but in a way I think we can look at that period as the post-midnight hours, when everything seemed dark and God Himself seemed to have grown silent. The people living and working and struggling to make sense of life had no idea when anything would change. If you ask me, that's a lot of darkness. Years and years and years of it. Post-midnight, time-stretched darkness.
In fact, Mary herself had no idea that dawn was breaking when she went out for her walk, or whatever it was she was doing when the Angel of the Lord confronted her with Incarnation. Up until the very moment when God broke through the darkness and said, "You have been chosen to bear a Son and call Him Immanuel," and Mary said, "Be it unto me..." until that very instant it was dark. And then it was light. Because He brings Light. He is Light. And that Light, which we wait for, is and will be the Light of the World.
So let's start here in darkness and wait for His light to break over us. Wait, wait, wait. He will come.