beauty with ugly: our real Advent stories

Our lives are made of Advent stories. As advent people, pain and sorrow erupt right with joy and elation.

A couple of days ago, I had a real Advent experience.

I know a darling preschooler who I believe is a modern child saint. She teaches her stuffed animals how to pray the sign of the cross and she loves talking to her younger siblings about God.  I love her and her parents a lot, as they are some of my dearest friends from college.  The other day I heard from the three-and-a-half year old’s mother and learned that this dear little girl has been diagnosed with leukemia.  The message was a request for prayers, as she must now go through chemotherapy for the next two-and-a-half years. (Please join us in prayers for miracles.)  The awful news sunk my heart to a near-collapse.

While I was the middle of emailing a prayer request for the little girl and her family to my community’s adoration chapel coordinator, my phone rang.  It was my dad. He was calling to tell me that my younger sister had her highly anticipated baby and I am now an aunt! After I squealed and shed a few tears of joy, I added another line to my email before I sent it. “In thanksgiving for the birth of my nephew!”

My prayer request was a combination of sorrow and elation.  Together, my email was a cry for help and a message of praise and thanksgiving.

In a matter of minutes my heart experienced the extremes of our chaotic, human experience.  In each of our lives, the beauty and joy coincides with the awful and ugly every day.

"lamp with chipped paint" by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“lamp with chipped paint” by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Thousands of years ago, God’s people were exiled and had forgotten their promise to be faithful to the covenant.  They started repenting and saying they were sorry for breaking God’s great law of love.  Then a great voice came forward and told them to change out of their penitential clothes and get all dressed up.  It was time, he said, to show that they were children of God, made out of beauty and love. Sure, they had messed up, but there were reasons to rejoice and have hope.

Here’s what the prophet said:

Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on the splendor of glory from God forever:
wrapped in the cloak of justice from God,
bear on your head the mitre
that displays the glory of the eternal name.
For God will show all the earth your splendor:
you will be named by God forever
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.
Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
borne aloft in glory as on royal thrones.
For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain be made low,
and that the age-old depths and gorges
be filled to level ground,
that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.
The forests and every fragrant kind of tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;
for God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.   -Baruch 5:1-9

Our God has created a mysterious, paradoxical world.  Our human ways are messy and ugly, yet beautiful and glorious.  It’s in nature: if we examine a swamp we can see life coming out of the mud.  If we go to our gardens, we can notice how the decay of our compost waste renews and restores new life.

We can also look at the impacts of our human actions.  If we go to our war-zones we can see art rising from the destruction.  We can also see how the songs of symphonies are sometimes created from slums of our trash. The stories in this movie make that very literal:

It’s true and just like all of us!  Despite our garbage, we get to be instruments of God and make music to sparkle out God’s glory.  Even if all the darkness is too heavy or we feel like we are just ugly waste, God can create us into something new. We don’t really know what that will be.  Let’s stay open while we wait.

Instruments can only make good music if they are empty and open.  As instruments of God,  joyful songs of hope and beauty can ring through our empty, broken sorrowing souls.  God makes the music, we need to be ready to do the work.

These are real Advent stories that teach us about an Advent way of being.  In our world of pain and darkness, the Light of Christ is glowing bright.  We are children of that Light!  We get to act like our parent, and help the Light illumine the darkness.  Daily we get to say yes to helping beauty be right along side the dirt of our pain and sorrow.

It’s such good news!  We get to trust and have hope, by God’s grace our ugly stories and feelings can become songs of beauty and light! Amen!  Happy Advent!

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