In a time of year marked by songs of bells, jolly characters, and excitement about gifts, it may seem odd to talk about lament. Lament doesn’t seem very Christmas-ey. But; I would say, neither does manufactured joy.
Smiling selfies, cheery music, and extravagant feasts that only mask loneliness and heartache do not befit Christmas anymore than heartfelt expressions of grief and sorrow. (That’s not to say there’s no room for joy, simply that we shouldn’t try to fake it). In fact, if we take time to pause and reflect on what this season is about, lament seems far more appropriate than we might first think.
Advent means “coming”. We remember that Jesus came, but we also wait for him to come again. Advent is a time to remember that God broke into human history and nothing can ever be the same. As I live in that “in-between” space, between Jesus’ birth and his glorious reign, between Jesus’ miracles and the fullness of God’s kingdom, between his resurrection and the final banishment of suffering and death, I’m struck by all of the ways that things are not as they should be. Sickness, oppression, death, abuse. All of these things should not exist in a world where Jesus reigns.
Then I remember, Jesus’ reign is both now and not yet. Jesus entered creation and set things right, but that righteousness is not yet fully here. That is the heart-wrenching beauty of advent. Advent is a season when we recognize that we live between the now and the not yet.
And in that way, advent creates space for lament. Reflecting on the incarnation of Christ shows us what the reign of God looks like, what the world is made to be. Recognizing that the world falls short of God’s design gives us permission to lament, to cry out to God about the injustices we see and ask, “how long, O Lord?” (Psalm 13:1)
How long will children be left hungry? How long will sickness and violence cut short people’s lives? How long will Indigenous people be treated as less-than human? How long will we continue to experience death, suffering and heartbreak?
We can join with people of faith throughout history, who “pour out [their] compliant before” the Lord and “tell [their] trouble before him” (Psalm 142:2). We can ask God why mourning and oppression continues, and when he will intervene (Psalm 42:9-10). Like the writer of Lamentations we can name the injustices and sorrows around us and insist that God cares about these things. Lamentations constantly draws attention to hardship and demands that God pay attention:
“All her people groan as they search for bread;
They trade their treasures for food to revive their strength.
‘Look O Lord, and see, for I am despised’” (Lam. 1:11)
We can name the injustice of human trafficking, intimate partner violence, racism, ecological degradation, cultural genocide, and all other forms of oppression and corruption. We can cry out before one another and before God, that this is not right. We are free to express the depth of our pain, heartbreak and longing.
In Advent, a season of waiting for Christ to come again, we are invited to express that depth of longing and sorrow. Giving voice to our deepest feelings, fears and desires. We are invited to live with, “captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear”. 1
So, as you live in this season of Advent, this life of “in-between”, give voice to your heartbreak, ask God “how long” and, when you’re ready, remind yourself that “the Lord will not cast off forever … he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lam. 3:31-32). God is big enough to hold this love alongside our questions and suffering, so let’s come to him with both.
1. 12th century Latin Hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”, translated by John M Neale 1851