How to Offer Hope in Advent’s Exile

When I speak to pretty much anyone these days, we share a litany of worries: rising prices, Covid variants, the nation’s angry political divide, “wars and rumors of wars.”

“But there’s not much we can do about it,” a friend remarked the other day. “Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Truly we “mourn in lonely exile here,” as the great Advent hymn puts it. This has always been so, but perhaps our post-Covid world has brought this truth a little closer to home by unmasking our false sense of security and revealing our helplessness.

We are not in control. We are “not as strong as we think we are.” 

This sad truth can make us grateful for the liturgical season of Advent.

In this season of quiet spiritual preparation preceding Christmas, people of faith are invited to own our darkness with the rest of the “weary world,” with Jewish forebears and current companions who wonder if this is all there is.

Rather than gloss over exile’s sadness, people of faith can warm our hands at the same fire that draws other lonely souls searching for company. We can step outside the din of the party and look at the stars together.

Advent invites us to keep vigil, to keep our inner lamps lit in knowledge that Christ has come, Christ is here and Christ will come again.

The light of Christ cannot be appreciated when we’re busy denying our darkness.

Rather than anesthetize exile’s pain with spending, substances and sounds that drown silence, Advent tells us that there actually is “something we can do about it.” Many things, in fact.

We can light the the Advent wreath’s consecutive candles that mark its four week cycle, reading and remembering promises fulfilled and promises yet to be realized. We can place the creche’s empty manger before us while we wait.

We can keep watch, making room for Christ in the silence of our hearts.

We can pray for the lonely souls who share our exile but not our hope, that a spark from Christ’s flame within us might burst upward and ignite a flame in another’s heart.

We can do concrete acts of mercy in our own local neighborhoods, taking time to listen to the cares of others, refraining from solutions but softening their exile with the love we so often keep hidden in our hearts.

Recalling Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem (bearing the outward burden of a governor’s demand and the inner joy of God’s promise fulfilled), can respect what is Ceasar’s, but rejoice in what is God’s.

We can proclaim “peace to people of good will.”

We can meditate on the names of Christ in the O Antiphons, those prophetic expectations of Messiah as our anticipation grows.

Christmas is coming.

Unto us a Child is born.

Let’s gently share our hope those who “mourn in lonely exile here.”

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You might also like Making Peace with the War on Christmas and Choose Something Like a Star: A Christmas Contemplation Inspired by Robert Frost.

It’s time to hear the old, old story, to “Sing out with joy for the brave little boy/who was God, but he made himself nothing.” I love Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God and listen to it every year. The opening never fails to ignite my hope:

Photos by Austin Scherbarth, Niklas Ohlrogge and Azimbek Assarov on Unsplash.