Glenda Simpkins Hoffman
I like the season of Advent. Because it is the first season in the Christian year but the last in the calendar year, I use it as a time to name my place in the journey. Where am I sitting in darkness and need to find the light? What am I really longing for in this season of life? Where am I waiting on the Lord to do what only he can do?
I think of the Advents when most of my contemporaries were enjoying marriage and I was still waiting, and when my husband Stuart and I longed to be parents but were left waiting for seven years until we adopted. I remember the Advent my son Ian was suddenly paralyzed and spent ten days in the hospital. And I remember the Advents when my father was declining and several years later that both Stuart’s parents’ health was deteriorating. I remember the Advents after their deaths when we were still in a season of grief.
A year ago in Advent 2019 was a time we were all grieving the death of Pastor David, dealing with the transition of the remodeling the church and a change in our Sunday morning schedule, and anticipating that 2020 would be the year Pastor Pete would retire. COVID-19 was just coming into the public consciousness, but we still could not have anticipated what 2020 would actually turn out to be for us or for the world.
For many reason, I expected 2020 to be a challenging year, and so as a part of my Rule of Life, I made it my intention to reflect on passages related to light in the darkness:
“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12)
“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, And the light around me will be night,’
Even the darkness is not dark to you, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to you” (Psalm 139:11-12, NASB).
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
So here we are in Advent 2020. We are people who may feel we are sitting in darkness and isolation due to COVID-19 for almost nine months. It certainly has been challenging, and it certainly is not what we would want. And yet, I am able to recognize many ways we as a congregation have experienced the light of Christ in this past year.
Our staff adapted quickly to move worship and groups online so that we could stay connected. I praise and thank God for his providence in having the right people on board to help us in the ways needed to be able to do that. The light shines in the darkness.
In less than a week, we were able to continue meeting with each other remotely as we listened to God through his word, shared our concerns, and prayed together. I know that in the women’s Bible studies, the groups became even closer and stronger during this period even staying in touch more regularly throughout the week. I think that is true of other groups as well. The light shines in the darkness.
We started new things that we hadn’t done nor even thought about before. The pastors and others started Daily Word and Prayer on Facebook. Children’s ministry hosted a daily time for children from spring through summer and now continue to meet weekly. Student ministry started Wake Up with the Daily Word. Now we are hosting an intergenerational opportunity called Advent for Everyone. All these opportunities are meant to help us stay connected to God, his word, and each other in a new ways given that we are still in the middle of this pandemic. The light shines in the darkness.
We were able to host several online learning opportunities with Jim Singleton, Tremper Longman, and two congregational meetings that were more well attended than anything we had done previously in person. The light shines in the darkness.
While our morning service continues to be live-streamed, we started worshipping outside in September. There are those who have come weekly, and often new people join us each week. The light shines in the darkness.
It’s easy in times of struggle to be more aware of the darkness, but in this season we remember the humility of our Savior in becoming a baby. We often romanticize his birth, but it’s important to remember his parents were living under the oppression of the Roman Empire. It was a time of deep darkness.
When it was her time to deliver, they had to make the four-day journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be counted in the census. Our Savior was born in a barn because there was no room for him in the inn, fulfilling many prophecies. Jesus is the light of the world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
In this Advent 2020, there is still much uncertainty ahead, but the light of Christ is already shining in our lives, regardless of our circumstances. There is still more ahead in the winter months as we continue to wait and to adapt to life in a world suffering from a pandemic in terms of church, work, education, and so many other regular routines. But a vaccine is on the way. The light shines in the darkness.
In the coming months, we will have to say goodbye to and even grieve the departure of Pete, our longtime pastor and friend as he retires. We will miss his presence and leadership. But we hold to the promises of God’s word for both him and Chris and for us: “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The light shines in the darkness.
I know that my family is waiting for my husband Stuart’s healing. He continues his therapy to recover motor functions, and this week he begins radiation and immunotherapy treatments. I see the light of Christ shining through so many prayers, so many acts of love and kindness, so much generosity through gifts of food, and time energy and resources shared with us to help us through this challenge. This is the work of the Holy Spirit through the community showering us with blessing, lavishing us with grace. The light shines in the darkness.
Some of you know that last week my mother was rushed to the hospital with difficulty breathing. We discovered she has a form of cancer, and because of her age she will not undergo treatment. Yesterday she was able to return home under hospice care. I thank God for her faith, readiness to go to her new home with God, and that my sister and brother are able to be with her as we wait for her final letting go. The light shines in the darkness.
I know we all have unique experiences of what this Advent is like for us. I urge us all to take the time to name our place in the darkness and to wait intentionally with God as we listen to his word and pray. I urge you to practice examen naming the darkness but also looking expectantly for the light. My hope and prayer for us is that we will have eyes, ears, and hearts that recognize his presence with us through the Holy Spirit, whatever we may be facing. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”