Advent: Hope (A Surprise)

Advent catches me off guard every year. Today, I found it in the Book of Mormon.

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Advent catches me off guard every year. Maybe because it is a solitary sort of observance for me, as neither my son nor husband are particularly interested in it (they have other, less formal, ways of keeping their focus on Christ this time of year), or maybe because I expect it to start later than it does, or maybe because I’m always a little unaware of myself in relation to the passage of time. Regardless, right about the time of year I start thinking, “Gosh, is it dark already?” Advent arrives. Appropriate, no?

A few friends of mine posted their Advent lighting on Sunday. I thought, “Ah, it’s that time of year, of course.” I had forgotten, as usual. It was a pleasant surprise. My friends are observing “hope” this week. They’ve all had pretty difficult things happen this year (2016, you are the worst), and seeing them reflect on the virtue of Hope this week was inspiring. So I gave their posts a little thumbs up and moved on.

Today, I was surprised by advent during my scripture reading. I thought it might be nice to study some accounts of the Savior’s birth, and I encountered hope there. I don’t know why I was surprised by it. It’s right there in the song: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” I mean, it’s not scripture, but it’s close, right? But I had forgotten, as one does. Majesty and humility, I remembered, glory, joy, and salvation, but hope slipped my mind entirely. As it does.

Anyway, today I read the account of Christ’s birth as related in the Book of Mormon, in the first chapter of 3 Nephi. The Christians are having a rough time. The people around them think they’re bonkers. A while back, a prophet went around saying Christ would be born by a certain time, and here were all these signs that he was going to be born. The signs appeared, but not THE sign. So the unbelievers mocked, which would be bad enough, except then they decided that if THE sign had not appeared by a certain date, they were just going to kill all the followers of Christ. Na na na na boo boo, I guess.

So their leader, Nephi, is distressed. Things are looking grim. He pours out his soul in prayer. We aren’t given his words, but I’m sure you can imagine what they might be like. I’m sure we’ve all had similar prayers. I’m guessing it was something along the lines of “Please oh please oh please help,” maybe mixed with, “I don’t understand,” and “Why is this happening to us when we have done everything you said?” I’ve prayed all of those prayers.

And Christ comes to him, as He always does, and offers Nephi hope. “Lift up your head and be of good cheer,” He says, “for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world.” Which, now that I think about it, is basically what He always says: “Don’t worry, I’m coming.”

And guys, get this: THE sign? Is a night with no darkness. How perfect is that? How appropriate and fitting, that the Light of the World should be signified by literal light? In addition to the new star in the heavens, this light brightens the whole Nephite city. “For behold, at the going down of the sun, there was no darkness; and the people began to be astonished because there was no darkness when the night came.”

And this is the promise and the hope Christ leaves with us, that when our Night comes, we can be filled with Light instead of Darkness. Even though the people in the Book of Mormon had been told what to expect, when the sign came, many of them fell to earth, just dropped dead (but not actually dead) from the shock of it. Hope surprises us. It surprises us by showing that the Lord keeps His promises. It surprises us by keeping watch with us all night long. It surprises us simply by showing up, an unexpected friend at a rather dull and uncomfortable party.

Hope isn’t going to sneak up on me again this year, though. I know it’s there now. Shepherds, wise men, Nephites all watched. I’m watching now, too.

Advent

Advent
by James Treadwell

Advent by James Treadwell

James Treadwell’s debut novel follows fifteen-year-old Gavin Stokes as he leaves his parents to spend a weekend with his aunt, and just happens to restore magic to the world at the same time. A somber, mysterious offering, this work is reminiscent of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (one of my all-time favorite books). Advent is much more unsettling, however. Everything is something else. Even the Faust story Treadwell uses as a touchstone is not the same Faust story we’ve heard before. Gavin is actually Gawain, the girl next door is actually a changeling, his parents aren’t really his parents, and Aunt Gwen is really– well, I won’t give it away. I’m just saying, Treadwell effectively communicates Gavin’s disorientation by sharing it with the reader.

I enjoyed this novel, but in the end it was all just a little too mysterious for me. As a reader, I needed some shred of reality to hang on to. Combining an unreliable narrator with a setting in constant flux leaves the reader nowhere to stand. I also felt like there were just too many myths happening at once. Faust, Cassandra, and allusions to King Arthur pop up all through the novel. I’m not averse to combining myths when it’s done well– it’s one of the things I love about American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I just would’ve appreciated it if Treadwell had made the connections between these myths more apparent. As it is, I can’t see any reason Cassandra and Faust know each other besides Treadwell maybe saying to himself, “Hey, you know what’s really different? Combining these two characters who have nothing in common.” The connection seems tenuous and forced.

That said, Gavin is a believable fellow I felt a lot of compassion towards. I really wanted him to be able to figure out what was happening. I really wanted him to succeed against all the troubles aligned against him. I was delighted when he discovered that his parents were not who he thought they were, when certain things about himself came into focus. And I like the whole premise that there are magical things happening all around us, little whispers and hints of a world beyond the quantifiable.

I certainly recommend this book, but I would warn readers that 1. it is a dark book; 2. there’s a little too much mystery; and 3. the resolution is not much of a resolution. I gather this is the first in a trilogy, and I’m sure by the end of the third book, all of these problems will have been resolved. Treadwell’s writing is excellent, even if his plotting leaves a teeny tiny something to be desired, and this is an engrossing, cerebral novel. Definitely good for reading on a dark and stormy night. I’m looking forward to reading the next two in the series once they’re available. Look for this book from your local indie seller.

As an afterthought, if anyone else reads this and wants to tell me whether or not it’s YA, I’d love to have that conversation. I mean, the protagonist is 15, and that’s usually the main criterion for classification, but this sure doesn’t feel like YA. What do you think?

(PS This was another gift from Atria’s Galley Alley promotion– the last, as it turns out, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Thanks Atria!)