Advent is a Christian tradition steeped in Judaism. And Judaism is steeped in sorrow.
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion. (Psalm 137)
Zion stands for all that fills our hearts with joy. Zion is home, sweet home. Zion is where we long most to be. And when we lose it, we’re as good as dead.
Jews and Christians both long for salvation. But each sees it a bit differently.
Someone once told me that Christians love football because it’s about running over people and spiking the ball in the end zone and that Jews love baseball because it’s about coming home after wandering in unfriendly territory.
I don’t know about that. But I do know this: Advent calls us back home.
The first candle stands for Hope. The second for Faith. The third for Joy.
The third candle burns for those in exile, wandering a long way from home. It burns for those who dwell in sorrow. A country lost. A loved one dead. A dream crushed. A life unlived.
Today’s a good day to lift up your heart. Behold! A road in the wilderness. Stand up. Take a step.
The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. The lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. The ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing. Everlasting joy shall be upon their head. Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 35)
Some wait for the LORD. Some wait for Messiah. Some wait for better weather. Some wait for the next election. And some just start walking—for as it turns out, the road is made by walking. As the 16th century Franciscan friar Giovanni put it in his Christmas letter:
The gloom of the world
is but a shadow,
behind it, yet, within our reach,
According to Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s ballad “Casey at the Bat,” there was no joy in Mudville when the mighty Casey struck out. No one made it home that day. But it wasn’t the end of the world. Casey would walk to the plate again and again. One day joy would come to Mudville.
Today’s a good day to light three candles and remember what you long to be. And then walk that way.