The Good Grief of Advent: Living in the Longing

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“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.” – Charlie Brown in A Charlie Brown Christmas

You know the scene. Charlie Brown has been dealing with more than his share of the winter blues. Leaning on their iconic brick wall, he confesses to his good friend Linus that, despite all the holly jolly festivities, he can’t seem to feel happy. This is the time of year I am most like Charlie Brown in that famous 1965 TV special. The “holiday season” is here, and I’m not feeling it. It’s not just me, though. Many have a hard time conjuring the seemingly expected happiness. Therefore, it’s appropriate that Advent is here to give voice to that melancholy.

A Season of Grief

Like Charlie Brown, in the face of all the festivities, I end up feeling depressed. I lack the energy. I don’t want to shop for presents. And I certainly don’t want to be with people. No number of colored lights blinking on a thousand homes can illuminate the kind of darkness I feel this time of year.

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Of course, as alone as I feel in the cold darkness at the cusp of winter, I’m far from alone in this experience. It’s shared across a broad swath of people. For some, it’s because the holidays call to mind the people they’ve lost. For others, it raises the fear of family conflict and pours salt on past wounds. And then, for some, like me, it’s because our very minds turn against us this time of year.

Seasonal Affective Disorder makes it hard for me to function in late December. Getting out of bed is a chore. Stringing thoughts together takes substantial effort. It has taken me two weeks to finish this article. At the very time of year when church activities and social functions increase, I am at my weakest. This is not ideal for anyone, much less a priest. Nothing makes sense. Like King David, I ask, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” (Ps. 43:5).

Advent is for the Broken

However, Charlie Brown’s lack of joy in the season—and my own—points to our own brokenness, whether we enjoy the December festivities or not. Whatever its source, it serves to remind us that this world is not as it should be, and we desperately long for it to be made right.

We often speak of Advent as remembering Israel’s longing for the coming Messiah. Thus, Christmas becomes the time we remember Christ’s birth. However, there is another longing that Advent recalls—our own, here between his Ascension and Second Coming. As Israel longed for a savior to deliver them from their perceived political captors, we know that far more than earthly potentates enslave us. We also know all that sin has wrought: every bit of creation has been marred by our fall, with suffering, sickness, and death as a result. And we know that Christ himself experienced all the brokenness this current world has to offer.

Christ arrived in a stable strewn with straw and manure when he was born in Bethlehem. He entered the grime of this world from his first breath onward. He faced humanity’s beauty and brokenness from the créche to the cross. In his crucifixion and death,

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief… (Isaiah 53:3a)

Advent arrives as a reminder that we are still in the liminal state—the time between the times. We still await the day that is not here, where suffering and sorrow are no more. It gives us the moment in the church year to express our longing for that day.

Let Advent Do Its Work

Returning to Charlie Brown, we find many of his friends trying to fix him, particularly Lucy. “What you need is involvement,” she says. After saddling him with the director duties of the neighborhood kids’ Christmas play, which he quickly loses control of, she sends him to fetch a Christmas tree. In this, by bringing back a sparse, tiny sapling, he has failed again in the eyes of Lucy and others. They ridicule his repeated failure. He melts down.

Instead of coming beside Charlie Brown and being with him in his melancholy, Lucy, like Job’s friends before her, labels what’s wrong with Charlie Brown and tries to fix him. It is Linus who, his own insecurities in hand, embodied by his iconic blue blanket, journeys with Charlie Brown on his mission to obtain a tree. It is then he who, in the face of others’ laughter and ridicule, speaks the one truth that brings a moment of hope into Charlie Brown’s heart. It’s not another method for our protagonist to fix himself. It’s Luke chapter 2: the proclamation of Christ’s arrival itself. No human “fixing” can match the hope only God can give.

A Companion in the Grief

The season of Advent, like Linus, meets and comes alongside us. It gives us a chance to voice our lament that we’re in a broken world that has not yet been made whole. Advent resonates with us the age-old, oft-repeated cry in Scripture, “How long, O Lord?” Advent is a solemn yet hopeful expression of the reality that Christ’s work has been accomplished but not consummated. Even as we mourn, cry, and experience life’s current pain, Advent voices the truth that a day will come when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). It comforts us with Christ’s assurance, “I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5).


Image rendered by Jacob Davis / Components courtesy of Canva.

Published on

December 15, 2023

Author

Jacob Davis

The Rev. Jacob Davis is the editor of Anglican Compass. He is a priest in the Diocese of Christ Our Hope and lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he serves as assisting clergy at Grace Anglican Church.

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