We rightly peered into the darkness, with lament, in our first Advent reflection. It can be hard sometimes to have hope. We are tempted toward anxiety and fear, for ourselves and for our world.
Novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson states flatly: “First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” She goes on to declare to her secular audience: “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.” 
Paul famously urged the Philippian church to resist anxiety and lean into prayer, expressing our needs and yearnings to God who, in his love for us, supplies a mysterious peace to guard our hearts. How can we be non-fearful and full of gentle calm? Because “The Lord is near.” (Phil. 4:4-7)
The Lord’s shalom presence is (always) near; his shining second coming is (always) near.
For the second week of Advent, I invite you to articulate your longings to God, with faith in his “nearness.” In this Time Between, longing in hope is the flip side of the coin of lament.
Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the “new heavens and a new earth” fuels our longings:
I will rejoice in [the City of God],
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime….
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
(Is. 65: 17-25, New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
Such passages validate our longings. “For starters, in the delightful society, infant mortality is rare and elder care extensive, the economy is just and labor practices are fair, work is meaningful and families are protected, violence is low and collaboration is high.” These are marks of God’s shalom.
What aspects of shalom do you want to see? What are your own specific yearnings?
For my part, I am aching for greater racial reconciliation, for reduced political animosity, for renewal within our churches, for flourishing marriages and families, for lessening of violence (this week teenagers were gunned down in a Michigan high school), for healing in the wake of COVID. These are large concerns, but I also carry aches closer to home: a colleague whose husband has terminal cancer, a relative who’s trying to find his way after time in prison, a teenager who has attempted suicide, a friend who is “losing” his wife to Alzheimer’s.
Take time this week to express your longings to God. All such prayers, whether global or personal, voiced or merely groaned (Rom 8:23), partake in the powerful cry that Jesus teaches us to utter: “Your kingdom come.” What if we sat with that Advent prayer every day this week? What if we poured into that profound plea all our aches and longings, clinging to the conviction that the Commonwealth of Heaven is truly near, that the coming of its Governor is likewise near!
May the Spirit open our eyes and hearts to God’s “gracious, abiding presence in all reality”
In the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel, we read about a priest named Zechariah, a good man, getting on in years, and carrying a deep disappointment that his wife Elizabeth had been unable to conceive children. How often he must have poured out his longings about this to God. Luke tells the dramatic story of Zechariah’s annunciation experience. As priest, he was taking his customary turn tending to the offering of incense in the inner sanctuary of the temple, a holy space and moment. But he was caught unprepared for the appearance of an angel (who would be?!) nor able to absorb the stunning message announced to him. He questions the angel; the terrifying Being responds fiercely:
“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until these things occur.”
Zechariah is stunned into silence, and he will have nine months to think things over. But upon the birth of his son, who he names John as the angel instructed, his speech is restored. He breaks into a joyful blessing of God and stunning prophecy about this newborn who will grow up to be “The Baptist,” the one who would pave the way for the Messiah. Here is how his canticle (known as The Benedictus) ends:
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace
Advent invites us to stay alert (unlike Zechariah) and watch for the dawn, the coming of the light that overcomes our darkness and shows us how to live within the realm of Shalom, even in this Time Between.
 Marilynne Robinson, “Fear,” New York Review of Books, September 24, 2015
 Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year, (IVP, 2009), p. 305.
This is the second in a series of Advent Reflections for ESN Members. The first post, “Lament: How Long, O Lord” appears at this link.