Advent 1: The Darkness of Waiting

Read these Lectionary readings for November 27, 2011: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13:24-37


“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory…Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
Mark 13:24-26

The Gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent is an alarming one—full of violent images and ominous predictions.  It is a harsh beginning to such a holy season and if it wasn’t for the discipline of following the lectionary schedule, I would not be reading and reflecting on this passage right now!

But the truth is, the scenario described here is much closer to our reality these days than the dreamy images of beautiful angels, lowing cattle and nursing mothers that we associate with this season.  At the global level, our days and nights are filled with images of the unresolved tensions of clashing nations, economic upheaval, violent interpersonal conflict, and alarming weather patterns.  At a more personal level, we are plagued by our own confusion and distress about conflicts we can’t resolve, questions we can’t answer, and moral failure among ourselves and others that cause us to question the very Gospel message we preach.

This passage helps us to be honest about the places in our own lives that are full of confusion and distress, fear and foreboding.  It tells us that in these very places we are to wait for the Son of Man to come into our lives with power and glory.  Advent is not the time to run away and hide our heads in the sand.  It is a time to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near.  It is a time for us to be awake and alert so we will not miss the Light that dawns in the dark places of our own lives that feel desolate, confusing and beyond hope.

For the darkness of waiting
of not knowing what is to come
of staying ready and quiet and attentive,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of staying silent
for the terror of having nothing to say
and for the greater terror
of needing to say nothing,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of loving
in which it is safe to surrender
to let go of our self-protection
and to stop holding back our desire,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of choosing
when you give us the moment
to speak, and act, and change,
and we cannot know what we have set in motion,
but we still have to take the risk,
we praise you, O God:

For the darkness and the light
are both alike to you.

For the darkness of hoping
in a world which longs for you,
for the wrestling and laboring of all creation
for wholeness and justice and freedom,
we praise you, O God.

For the darkness and the light
Are both alike to you.
[1]


[1] Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, Janet Morley, ed. (Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1992), p. 22, 23. Used by permission.


©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.

Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center.  A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.


So where is the place of your own distress and confusion, your own fear and foreboding?  Do you have the courage to wait for the coming of Christ there?

Leave a comment below.

Ruth Haley Barton

(Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founding president/CEO of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, and Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

13 Comments

  1. The Darkness of Waiting – embracing / hybridity on October 20, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    […] For the darkness and the light Are both alike to you.[1] […]

  2. The Darkness of Waiting – {art&design} on October 20, 2016 at 11:47 pm

    […] the darkness and the light Are both alike to you.[1] [1] Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, Janet Morley, ed. (Mary Knoll, New York: Orbis […]

  3. Debbie Sanders on November 29, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    May I not hide my head and miss the light our Father is pouring out on me and on His creation! You are with us God! And we wait anticipating, trusting, fearful… Come Lord Jesus Come!

  4. Carrie O on November 27, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    I just came off a week of solitude and am very aware of the things within that I’m waiting in confusion and even anger for God to answer, reveal, or even settle. . . it was part of the reason I decided to “practice?” Advent this year as I am learning the sacredness in the waiting. So often, I forget how much waiting really existed in the Bible . . . in my impatience, I assume the answer is no when it is more of a wait for the proper time. Such a great reminder to me . . . Thank you for your words!

  5. Dan on November 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Hey everyone,

    Wondered if you have considered setting up a reading plan in a online Bible like YouVersion for all of the readings through Advent? Would be amazingly helpful. Thanks!

    • admin on November 27, 2011 at 9:44 pm

      Thanks for the suggestion.

  6. George Fuller on November 27, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    The Gospel, as I understand it, is found in the darkness. I don’t need to have someone help me see the bad news and pain. I need God, in the forms He moves, to show up and bring Light and Good News. I have been overwhelmed lately with my own sickness and the crises of my family. I’m glad to know that the Gospel is for me and I will bring that Gospel to others. I have found, in the readings today, hope in the midst of all I have to deal with and a fresh experience of Light conquering darkness. Darkness and Light are the same to God. I am in the arms of Love today. I am grateful.

  7. Kirk Squires on November 27, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I am struck by how very countercultural this is – when it seems that Commercial Christmas launches progressively earlier by the year – as if it’s an act of defiance against our deepest fears that our world as we once knew it is no longer working. On the other hand, I am finding increasing freedom in “downward mobility” (Thank you, Henri Nouwen) – where we will be met in the depths and the darkness by the only One who can restore us fully to ourselves – only by incarnating Himself among and within us.

  8. Brigid on November 25, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    A much needed reminder to remain open, aware and ready to the Light in both the darkeness and light of our lives.

  9. Peter Murphy on November 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    Recent “distress and confusion” related to difficulties in a family relationship. Encouraged by today’s readings and the prayer from “Bread of Tomorrow” that I should wait and be hopeful.
    Thank you.

    • Ruth Barton on November 26, 2011 at 9:15 pm

      Thank you for naming distress and confusion related to difficulties in family relationships as a place of waiting for you. Family stuckness can feel so dark that it is hard to remain hopeful. I’m glad God provided this word for you in that place.

  10. Marcia dorey on November 25, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    God is wonderful to give us permission to be in that place of confusion and still know He loves us and is preparing to come to us !! In this community, devestated and destroyed by floods from Hurrican Irene, it is a perfect pericope to present –and thank you for the meditation, too.

    • Ruth Barton on November 26, 2011 at 9:08 pm

      Blessings to your community as you continue to heal and rebuild.

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