Advent: Daring to Imagine Amid the Shadows

by Marta Bunnett Wiebe

Weariness. I believe that word captures much of what many of us are feeling these days. The challenges and uncertainty of the pandemic, alongside the ongoing news cycle, wear heavy on us. Restrictions on social gatherings, natural disasters, political upheaval; it all overlaps and piles on and the thought of it makes me slouch in my seat. The list could be longer, but there doesn’t seem a need to recite it all here.

In the northern hemisphere, we are moving into the shortest days of the year. The shadows fall quickly and linger long, engulfing us. The shadows of disaster, injustice, and crisis also seem to loom large these days. In these shadow-filled days, the call to do one more thing, take up another cause, or read about another devastating natural disaster feels almost insurmountable. I want to care, I want to want to help, but I feel so weary. Some days, I wish I could hibernate like a bear. Ride out the longest nights curled up under blankets.

In the community of Yalu, Guatemala, MCC supports the Llanura de Tacana Cooperative that provides members with the chance to participate in a family garden program as well as build greenhouses for growing flowers. (MCC Photo/Melissa Engle, 2012)

Yet, as much as I want to tune out the world, the advent season faithfully pronounces a call to “keep awake.” Each year, the advent lectionary readings begin with this imperative: be alert. Keep awake. This is not a command to avoid sleep or rest.  Rather it is a call to pay attention, to keep vigil. Why? Redemption is coming; the hopeful promise of a renewed creation. Furthermore, the gospels instruct: do not be worried. Be attentive to what is unfolding in the world, but do not fear, for the goodness of God is coming.

In my weariness, I could use some hopeful anticipation.

The theme of this year’s advent series in my congregation is “dare to imagine.” On First Advent, we were invited to dare to imagine God’s goodness. What could this possibly mean?

To dare is to be bold, to take a risk. A dare holds an element of the unexpected. To dare is to be audacious.

To imagine is more than fairy tales or daydreams. To imagine is to call into being something new. The prophets in the Old Testament imagined a new world through their prophetic messages, and in doing so brought forth new possibilities for life. To imagine is “to voice reality out beyond present arrangements.”[1]

To dare to imagine, then, is to risk the possibility of seeing a new world and a new way of being. In contrast to the desire to tune out the world, daring to imagine would place us directly amid the challenges of this world and then call us to imagine beyond the present situation.

Daring to imagine God’s goodness would require faith that God works towards life and wellbeing and reconciliation even amidst the devastation.

In the face of disaster, injustice, and crisis, do we dare imagine God’s goodness? Do we let ourselves conceive of such audacious things?

The shadows of night can be overwhelming. So too the shadows of crisis.

It might be a costly dare; it might even cause some upheaval. For, in fact, daring to imagine is to go against the tide, to resist the damaging forces of this world. It is possible that things might not go as we hope or imagine. It is indeed a risk.

However, is it also possible that something blessed and wholly unexpected might take place? Might new visions of life emerge? Is there anything to be seen amid the shadows?

Given some time, our eyes can adjust. With patience and alertness, there is much to see even in the dark. In the dark, the distant stars twinkle and the moon shines, casting snow-white fields with glitter. From among the shadows, neighbours offer their homes to flood victims, friends commit to commuting by bicycle and bus, and a community unites to support a family of new immigrants.  

Daring to imagine God’s goodness in the face of natural disaster, we rebuild with a renewed creation in mind. Daring to imagine in the face of crisis, even amid the pain, we watch for the possibility of a new way of being. Daring to imagine in the face of injustice, we see places to focus our love and action.

Even the shadows hold possibility.

A novena is a Colombian Christmas tradition. Every night during the nine days before Christmas, family and friends gather to sing and pray together. In Bogota, a novena is organized in memory of all those who have been assassinated by armed groups in defense of their land and community. (MCC photo/Anna Vogt, 2017)

As we dare to imagine, might we discover that, “what we pay attention to grows”?[2] Will our attention to a daring new imagination change not just our perspective, but also how we engage in our neighbourhoods, regions, and even the world?

Advent is a time to pay attention, to see clearly the shadows of night and crisis, but not to let the shadows overwhelm us. It is a time to imagine, to risk seeing the world anew. Among the shadows, might the advent call to daring imagination animate even our weary souls to take action and live into new possibilities for our world? Is it possible that our daring imagination will draw us yet again into animating the love of God here on earth?

“In this strange season when we are suspended between realization and expectation, may we be found honest about the darkness, more perceptive of the light.” Jack Boozer

Marta Bunnett Wiebe is the Peace and Advocacy Program Coordinator for MCC Manitoba

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[1] Walter Brueggemann, Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), accessed through ebook, chapter 4: Hope Amid Despair.

[2] Adrienne Maree Brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2017), 42.

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