Before this season in my life, I had never been one to dream of heaven.
Life was too good, right now. This world just held so much possibility, so much promise. College, grad school, marriage, the babies, one after the other… The longer-than-hoped for interlude between Sam and Grace, but then the happy double-whammy of two under two. Became homeowners for the first time. And the world itself seemed a decent neighborhood to raise kids in. Bruised, but generally, sensible. The blessings were good on this side of heaven.
I liked this world. It was working for me.
What they say about invincibility in your twenties is true. You think tragedy is something that happens to other people. You think death is the last page to someone else’s story. If there is such a thing as Millennial Exceptionalism, I had it.
Then I had an awakening.
It wasn’t any one thing. It wasn’t any one moment or issue that rocked my world. Instead, it was an awakening that came on slow. Quiet, like a fire. I turned thirty, thirty one. With the years came understanding. One flash of insight here, one disillusionment there. One fractured relationship here, one breach of trust there. Coming to terms with myself. Coming to terms with others. Watching friends’ lives come undone. Learning how to live in a dizzyingly terrifying, unpredictable world. This is what older, wiser people meant when they said, Life is hard.
Truth ignited for me, one flame at a time, until my previously undisturbed world was lit. Ablaze, with a roaring fire.
And with light.
And in that light, I finally saw: how dark the darkness.
No, it was nothing special that woke me up, nothing that doesn’t already happen to people everywhere, all the time. I claim no victimhood or special treatment. I just think… I grew up. And part of that growing was coming to see things as they are. To see the darkness for what it was.
But you don’t know you’re in darkness until someone lights a match.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
We do not have to look far to know: this world we live in, it is dark. And how this darkness begs, how it is dying, dying for the light.
If light could be water, this world is parched. If light could be bread, this world is starving.
But would we know it if it came to our table? Would we eat, would we drink? Or would we spit it out?
I am the Bread of Life. I am Living Water.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
And then he did come, one night, in a stable.
Quiet as a match in a big, dark world.
And he gave. He gave and he gave until he could give no more, and then he died.
And he rose again. Yes, he’s alive. And he’s gone on to heaven to prepare a place for us, and one day will come to take us home.
But we are not home yet. We’re here. We have work to do. We are caught in between: we are sojourners on a midnight road, refugees, even, tossed from shore to shore, huddled and shivering under the stars, lighters in our hands, fires in our bellies.
We are in this dimly lit anteroom that theologians call the “already not yet” — a kingdom of heaven already begun, but not yet in its completion. A runway dotted with lights, the path ahead in shadow, waiting to be set ablaze by the fullness of His glory.
His homecoming, to us. And the more we understand of this world, the deeper our longing for the next. It’s what we say after a death: you’ll see them again. Something in the soul reaches for eternity, for a world where all things will be made new, where all tears will be wiped away, all evil and suffering will be no more, justice will reign. A world that will be, in the words of a great thinker, put to rights. A thing to hope in. Heaven. It’s real. It’s coming. Soon, but not yet.
So we wait.
I don’t know what you’re waiting for today. Maybe for a relationship to mend, if that person you love would ever even speak to you again. Maybe for two pink lines on a stick, and with every month that goes by, your hope dies a little. Maybe a job interview. Maybe a diagnosis. Maybe for healing.
Maybe for heaven, if just to see that loved one’s face again.
How long, O Lord, how long?
If you are someone who waits, I wait with you.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Tonight I lit the Advent candles, an honor normally bestowed on my husband; but he was out, giving light to others tonight. So around our table, I lit the fire. And something happened for me, as I held that light. It wasn’t just the sweet expectation on my children’s faces, or the spell cast by the carols we had sung just before. It was the realization that, in the words of Cormac McCarthy, I am carrying the fire. And my children with me, they are carrying the fire.
And we march on, bringing light and heat to the cold, dark corners of this world. We bring hope, the same hope that has set us free. And as we go, we are not alone, for He goes with us. He is God with us. That is who He is. And as the song says —
We mourn in lonely exile here. But even as we mourn, we rejoice, for Emmanuel shall come to us.
It’s a great paradox and a mystery, this living of life in the face of death. But though we see through a glass darkly now, someday we shall see clearly, face to face. We know in part, but then we shall know, even as we are known. Until that day, we light the candles in the dark to remind each other, and ourselves, that this, this is our season of waiting.