Advent is a suffering season.

In Advent we find ourselves in “lonely exile here.” We acknowledge “the gloomy clouds of night, / And death’s dark shadows.” We see a “path to misery” with which we are often all too familiar.

It is appropriate that Advent should be a suffering season; the events we prepare to celebrate through the “bleak midwinter” of Advent were suffused with suffering.

Roman SoldiersThe land of Jesus’ birth was governed by a despised tyrannical occupying authority that ruled without concern for its subjects, imposing its will using terror and violence. The population toiled in poverty and oppression under an impossible burden of taxation, injustice and constant fear.

At the centre of the story is a young woman mysteriously pregnant. She must have feared for her life at the hands of a society that would condemn her to death by stoning for apparently being unfaithful to the covenant promise to marry Joseph made on her behalf. Weak and vulnerable Mary was trapped in the tangled web of deeply entrenched misogyny.

When he turned out to be a noble man, Mary and her espoused were forced to embark on a painful and treacherous journey due to Herod Journey to Bethlehemthe whim of a powerful emperor. At the end of this ordeal Mary, pregnant with divinity, and her intended husband met no warm welcome; they found no secure haven for Mary’s labour. They encountered rejection and were forced to settle for an inadequate shelter in which to make the uncertain journey to birth of the one destined to be king.

After the birth, despite their poverty and powerlessness, the new family were hunted by the paranoid the puppet king Herod whose fear and insecurity drove him to order the vicious slaughter of innocent children. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee with Jesus to hide in a foreign land. Driven by the violence of the world they sought safety as vulnerable refugees.Massacre of the Innocents

The world of Christmas is a world where

frosty wind made moan,
earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

This is a world with which too many people are sadly too familiar.

The gaping wound that is human community as we frequently experience it, rips a jagged tear in the fabric of life.

The evidence of circumstance often seems to suggest that darkness, suffering, violence, injustice, and despair are the dominant realities of life.  There are times when it is hard to see the light.

Advent challenges us not to rush through this season of darkness, but to sit still with the reality of brokenness and the unavoidable pain of being human.

We live on the edge of a dark abyss. We may hold ourselves back for a time from the jagged edge of this suffering; but it will not be long before the sharp edges of our brokenness rip at the tender flesh of our heart. There are no easy fixes; there is no escape.

But, no matter how painful the suffering of any season may be, for those with eyes to see and the patience to hold the pain, there are always moments of tenderness and light to be found.

Baby Jesus