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.