Four years ago, my father-in-law Jon was diagnosed with terminal cancer during the first few days of Advent. To say that we were devastated is an understatement. We’d lost my husband’s mom only a little more than a year before. This new diagnosis was simply too soon, too much, and the fact that it happened at the start of Advent felt wrong and strangely offensive.
I’d like to tell you I felt God’s presence more than ever that season, but that wouldn’t be the truth. The reality was that I struggled hard. I clung to any wisp of joy and peace I could find, but mostly, I was overwhelmingly sad. Advent, Christmas and the New Year felt heavy, burdensome, and I was glad when January 2 finally rolled around and all the bright lights and cheery music of the holidays were done. I was relieved to strip the mantel of greenery, sweep the house clean of light and sparkle, box it all up and pack it back into the dark basement.
Here’s the truth about dark seasons, though. Here’s what I knew deep down, even though I didn’t acknowledge it and couldn’t quite feel it at the time. When everyone else was whistling Silver Bells and draping twinkling lights and stacking brightly festooned packages under the tree, God was with me as darkness cloaked my heart. God was with me as I fumbled blindly through the false brightness of a hard season.
God was, is always Immanuel, God with us. The Coming One still comes to us, to be with us, even when — perhaps especially when — darkness obscures his face.