For centuries, Christians everywhere have joined in the yearly rhythms of Advent — this four-week period through which the church expectantly waits and spiritually prepares for the coming of Christ. It is an opportunity for us to make space for God to speak.
In this Advent space making, we empty and quiet ourselves from the noise and invite God to disrupt our lives and meet us there. This is a vulnerable and needy place where we anticipate God will come and actively listen for his voice speaking to us.
As a companion for the 2023 Advent season, Wesleyan Publishing House has released “That Extraordinary Moment: Reflections on the Advent Season” by Jon S. Kulaga, Andrea Summers with prayers by Jim “Umfundisi” Lo. Throughout this book, we are invited to celebrate the remarkable and miraculous as we journey with God through the ordinary moments of our days leading up to Christmas. The following, “Ministry of the Night,” is a sample reflection:
Author and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 in Romania. During World War II, he— with his family and other Jews from the area—was deported to the German extermination camps, where his parents and little sister perished. Wiesel and his two older sisters were liberated from Buchenwald in 1945 by advancing Allied troops.
Night is Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. His metaphor of “night” is particularly poignant because it captures both physical darkness and the darkness of the soul that threatens to overtake anyone in a similar situation. Night had threatened to envelop their humanity. Wiesel describes how the instinctive need to pray faltered, yet deep within, he continued to fight the onset of the spiritual night that threatened to exterminate God from his life.
While none of us can relate to what Elie Wiesel and his family experienced, we can all relate to that feeling of spiritual darkness that can overtake our minds and leave us in a place that St. John of the Cross described as the “dark night of the soul,” or what American novelist Flannery O’Connor described as faith “walking in the darkness.” A time when goals are not met, ambitions are not achieved, and prayers are left unanswered.
But it was in the darkness that the shepherds were to keep watch. It was at night that they were to be on their guard, defending their flocks. While others worked during the day, when all was bright and light, they were given the task of laboring through the watches of the night. And yet, it was to those same shepherds to whom, in the blackness of the evening, the angels appeared. It was to those shepherds that the privilege was given of being the first among many witnesses to proclaim, “I have seen the Messiah.
A.W. Tozer writes, “If God sets out to make you an unusual Christian He is not likely to be as gentle as He is usually pictured by the popular teachers. . . . You will find out the hard way . . . that true faith lies in the will, that the joy unspeakable of which the apostle speaks is not itself faith, but a slowripening fruit of faith.” Loss will come to all of us, but we are not alone.
Crazy and unreal as it may sometimes seem, God’s holy, healing grace is always present and available if we are still enough to receive it.
Fifty years after all the suffering, Wiesel decided that it was time to “make up” with God. He wrote God a letter that was published in the New York Times (1997). It reads in part:
Master of the Universe, let us make up. It is time. How long can we go on being angry? . . . Let us make up, Master of the Universe. In spite of everything that happened? Yes, in spite. Let us make up: for the child in me, it is unbearable to be divorced from you for so long.
Perhaps, like the shepherds, you have been selected for a time or season to labor in the night. And for you, it feels like you are walking in darkness. And you are tempted, like the servant with one talent, to bury your life, bury your pain, to bury your joy. To bury whatever it is that life and the world has handed you and then live as carefully as you can, without living at all.
But buried life is not Life. “The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed by the holy power that life itself comes from.” (Frederick Buchner, “The Sacred Journey”)
The end is Life. His life and our lives through him and in him. Light will come. Dawn will break.
Slowly you will discover God’s love in your suffering.
The day is yours, and yours also the night. (Ps. 74:16 NIV) You will feel and understand the ministry of the night.
Prayer: Master of the Universe, when I seem to be walking in darkness, alone, remind me that you are still with me. Help me to recognize that you may be using this time to teach me new lessons and molding me to become more and more like your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Click here to order your copy of “That Extraordinary Moment: Reflections on the Advent Season.”
Rev. Angela Alvarado is the assistant editor of the Communication and Administration Division of The Wesleyan Church, an ordained elder and graduate of Wesley Seminary, Marion, Indiana.
*Excerpt from “That Extraordinary Moment: Reflections on the Advent Season,” 2023, used by the permission of Wesleyan Publishing House: Fishers, Indiana.
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