O Radiant Dawn,
splendor of eternal light, sun of justice:
come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the
shadow of death.
O Antiphon, December 21
Advent has long been my favorite liturgical season. All the joyful anticipation, all the almost-not-yet striving toward the wonder of Christmas has always enchanted me. My struggle with infertility, however, has carved new facets into my understanding of this season of preparation for the Christ Child. This year the Old Testament prophecies have colored my Advent, reminding me that Advent is a time of darkness as well as joy, and it is okay to lean into both of those experiences. In these last few days before Christmas, I invite you to reflect with me on the darkness and longing for the coming Light.
For many years, my Advent journeys focused on the nearness of the light of the coming Savior and the certainty and peace that nearness produced. However, infertility altered my experience of waiting in general, and by extension, of Advent. Instead of the easy, joyful peace I once had, the experience of waiting is now something painful, a cycle of deep longing and calling out to God to save me from the darkness. I ask myself, “What am I even waiting for? For another year of emptiness and uncertainty?” The idea of waiting conjures up uncertainty and darkness… and yet also a thin, wavering hope that doesn’t die despite repeated disappointments.
This year, through the gift of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I was reminded that there were others who waited in darkness and hope for the Light of the World to finally cast out the shadow of death.
The Jewish people experienced darkness in their waiting. They, too, had many tragedies and failures and crushed dreams in their past. They, too, had nothing to hold onto except a mysterious promise. The path of darkness was their lot for many years. “The people that walked in darkness, have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.” (Isaiah 9:2)
Advent invites all of us to share in the Jewish people’s experience of waiting for the Light of the World – to walk with them in the darkness of longing and repeated disappointments, trusting in the Lord’s providence, but unsure when or how they will be saved. This is what Advent is for – remembering our need for a Savior and crying out for one, while trusting in God’s mysterious timing.
This waiting in the darkness is a gift. God gave Israel the opportunity to wait in darkness, and the Church in her wisdom also asks us to journey through the darkness of Advent each year. As Bishop Robert Barron is fond of reminding the faithful, the Good News of a Savior isn’t good news if we don’t consider ourselves in need of one. The more we recognize the darkness, the more joy we will have when the Radiant Dawn appears.
Those of us on this path of infertility have many occasions to wait in darkness. Mysteriously, these occasions are potential moments of great grace. The more we recognize and long for the Savior, the more joy and grace we can receive when He comes.
Sometimes, however, we can intellectually know Christ has come into our lives, but we don’t feel His warming presence. There is another great Advent prophecy that speaks directly to this experience of knowing without feeling: Numbers 24:17. “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”
This not-yet, far off experience of God is something I can relate to in my cross of infertility. I know, intellectually, that God is with me, that He loves me and has a design of fruitfulness for my life. But He feels so far away at the same time; often, I feel I am still walking in darkness. “I behold Him, but not near.” It is just like when the very first slivers of purple stripe the sky before the dawn. “I see Him, but not now.”
Just as the Jewish people were promised that the Messiah would come, but had few details on how His coming would look, I know that Christ wants to “be conceived in me,” and bear fruit in my life, even though I don’t yet know how. I know He is with me and working in my life, but I don’t see Him clearly now. This Advent, I am leaning into the darkness. It is okay to experience the waiting as darkness, as long as we cling in hope to the promise that, “In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Canticle of Zechariah)
In these last few days before Christmas, let us enter into a deeper understanding of what the waiting of Advent truly is – an experience of darkness and hope for the seemingly – but not actually – far-off Light.
O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come and shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death!
Katie Summers and her husband Matthew have been married for almost five years and live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When not reading mystery novels or drinking vanilla lattes, you can find Katie listening to podcasts while crocheting.