We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22 NIV)
From politics, to violence and death, to apathy, to sickness and sorrow, there is no shortage of groaning in the world today. The world groans every single day. People groan every single day. And if we’re honest, we each groan every single day.
I find myself in a different space this year. Entering into advent, appropriately I think, has seen less excitement and more expectation, groaning even. Perhaps one change is there is less holiday busyness this year. My wife and I decided to limit our extracurricular Christmas activities for 2016. Less busyness, yes. But also less celebration (here I sit alone writing on a December Saturday evening – what!?!). But this year has also been particularly heavy for many people close to us. Family members and neighbours have lost loved ones. Friends have endured persistent sickness. Mental health has hit many in our community. Oh, and then there is politics. And wars. And, well, in general, just lots and lots of groaning. This is our "present time." It’s the world’s dire groans that make the advent themes of hope and joy and peace and love so significant, but not because we become immersed in hope and joy and peace and love. Far from it. Only in the absence of such things do we begin to identify with – participate even – the groaning of creation. Advent is for groaning:
We only know hope as we groan at so much hopelessness all around us.
We only know joy because we groan at the depth of sorrow felt daily.
We only know peace as we groan at the violence of our cities and countries.
We only know love as we groan at the reality of hate in so many forms.
And we only know Jesus – Emmanuel – as we groan in his seeming absence and await the promise of his coming.
In the groaning of advent, then, we need to pause. We take these days and weeks to sit with the discomfort. But we also realize that the groaning of creation comes with an expectation. Groaning is not for its own sake. Groaning has an anticipation that, however faint, the experience of hope and joy and peace and love – and Emmanuel – speak to a reality beyond our groaning. Groaning will not last forever. The expectation of advent longs for a time when the persistent pain of our world is met with a wholeness far beyond our present reality.
So while I find myself groaning this advent, it’s with an expectation beyond my own love for Christmas or my attempts to make sense of our crazy world. As I groan in the present reality, I know it’s because I long for a new reality:
Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:3-5 NIV)