As a child I was often beset by vivid and frightening dreams; some of which I still clearly recollect. These would jar me into a terrified, partially-wakeful state—alone in the dark of my bedroom, trapped in suspension between real and unreal. Instinctively, I would take the sole escape route available to me: leaping to the floor and running for my life down the hall into my parents’ room.
“I had a bad dream!” I would cry in quivering desperation, and would be be welcomed to my dad’s side; tucked up under the covers of his bed, where I would shake with tremors for what seemed like hours until the inner storm of dread finally subsided.
Even now, upon awaking from upsetting dreams, I find it impossible to easily shed the images, emotions and impressions upheaved from the pits of my unconscious world. Despite their ridiculous incoherency, dreams still forcefully grip us and render our faculties of rationale all but powerless for a time. At least they do for me.
Not a few have suggested that dreams are transmissions from our subconscious; that inner aspect of self with keen awarenesses, into which we rarely tap during our harried conscious living. I suspect nightmares to be children’s latent alarms of a world of danger; a place where safety might prove very fragile. Something kids don’t know they know, until they’re jolted awake by it!
In this sense, bad dreams are actually true. Adulthood itself is filled with many such violent awakenings, leaving us immobilized and shaken. But where do we flee?
The God of Advent is in the business of consolation; hastening into our darkness!We’re told that when Jesus was presented at the Temple an old man named Simeon was there waiting for him. He’d been waiting, Luke puts it, “for the consolation of Israel” and had been assured he wouldn’t die until he had seen the One anointed to bring it. That morning he’d been urged by the Spirit to travel to the Temple, so he did.
Upon beholding the child, he exclaimed,
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.
There is something so resolved in Simeon’s impromptu verse, as though the balance between agitation and solace has finally shifted. He speaks of salvation, which presumes a need for saving—a saving prepared in the presence of all peoples.
Simeon waited for consolation. The word is paraklēsis—the calling near!
Christmas tends to engender in us an aversion to negativity, as though the ground rules of the season disallow any acknowledgement of any but cheery, merry and glad tidings. But these Christmas terms would keep us shivering under our covers, as it were, deprived of our escape path to the side of a Loved One—deprived of consolation. The God of Advent meets us as we pine for consolation, as we await the calling near.
In all the bible, angels are found to offer a common (if unfortunate) greeting, but most especially in the nativity accounts. “Don’t be afraid!”
“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard.”
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
One might rightly attribute the need of this assurance to the fright people like us might experience in the presence of so resplendent a being, yet, in each case, the angelic guest assures them in their condition. “God has been listening!”, “God is favorably disposed toward you!” and “God is involved in your troubling perplexity!” So do not be afraid.
God himself has drawn near, and it is for your consolation; a saving prepared in the presence of all peoples. The advent of God must meet us all in this place, and we must meet it too. No playing brave and confident for Advent. Advent is a time for tears of relief; a time to receive our welcome up under the covers, tucked into the crook of a strong arm.
I mentioned in an earlier post, that Jerusalem was troubled by the advent of God. Understandable. But also a pity! This unbidden child would one day look out over the selfsame metropolis with eyes filled with tears,
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
As a hen gathering her chicks under wing. Isn’t that image strangely arresting? The God of Advent, a hen? Humanity nudged all together up into the downy warmth; concealed and safe? When we are afraid or feel cornered, we’re prone to stabbing and stone-throwing. But you hear the Savior lamenting, “Could I have assured you that I only sought to console you?” They were too afraid to be willing.
I’m not implying that Advent resolves all our fears, nor sweeps us away from the real hardship and threats of our existence. No, but advent offers us that place where our tremulousness is neither despised nor scorned. It assures us God is near, listening, kind-hearted and powerfully at work even in a world like ours. And we might be consoled. Advent is a calling near of God to us and of us to God!
Advent is that escape route offered for the night-terrors of all; a hallway down which we might scurry, confident that comfort awaits. For those too paralyzed still, Advent is the sound of the Savior’s footfalls hastening down the hallway and the knowledge that our frantic gasps have been heard!
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel
As with Simeon, it might be just enough for us. It might make of us those who console others too; calling them to shelter with us under the hennish wings of the Almighty!