by Emily Anne Carson

Advent is a season of illumination. We watch and wait to welcome the Light. The Light of Christ empowers us to see the world around us in new and braver ways.

The Light radiates in such a way that we recognize reality without fear. It isn’t just the overtly happy parts of life that reveal God’s nearness; the challenges do, too. During this month of Advent, we specifically honor the way that the Light of Christ shines in the midst of life’s difficulties. For December’s faith reflection, we walk alongside four people from the New Testament as they navigate loss, failure, disruption and change.

Loss: Thomas

Thomas was a disciple. He followed Jesus faithfully. He’s mentioned a few times by name in the New Testament. In the 20th chapter of John, we get a glimpse into how Thomas navigated loss and how the Light of Christ was shining in the midst of the challenges Thomas faced.

After the crucifixion, the Gospel of John mentions that the disciples gathered together. At that point, they didn’t know he’d been raised from the dead. Jesus showed up at their meeting, and they were amazed! Thomas didn’t go to that gathering, and we don’t hear why. We can hypothesize, though. Thomas was dealing with the greatest loss of his life; the murder of his dear teacher and friend, Jesus. Maybe he didn’t want to get out of bed. Maybe he just wanted to hide away under the covers.

Interestingly, the next week, Thomas decided to show up at the gathering. Jesus showed up again, too. Jesus brought a message of peace. Thomas’ faith was restored.

One of the challenges we face in this earthly life is loss, and those losses take many forms. Losses of loved ones and jobs and hoped-for futures. In the midst of loss, the Light enters in: sometimes in the form of dear friends who sit with us even in despair. As we navigate loss, the Light remains a beacon of hope while also giving us space to feel what we actually feel.

Failure: Peter

Peter was also a disciple of Jesus. He, too, followed faithfully. He encountered the Light of Christ in the midst of challenge. The difficulty Peter faced was failure.

Just prior to the crucifixion, Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times. At the time, Peter thought it was impossible. He couldn’t imagine failing in that way. And yet, that’s exactly what happened. Peter did deny his relationship with Jesus to three different strangers.

After the resurrection, Jesus reached out to Peter with love and gave him the chance to mend what had been broken. In the book of Acts, we read many stories of Peter’s commitment to sharing the good news of Christ near and far! Peter’s encounter with the Light in the midst of failure helped him heal and move forward.

We, too, make mistakes. Sometimes they’re small and sometimes they’re gigantic. Sometimes they’re public and everyone knows, and other times they’re private and we carry them with us our whole lives.

In Peter, we witness the ways Jesus illuminates in the midst of failure. As we face our mistakes and regrets, Jesus lovingly invites us to remain in real relationship with Him. We don’t have to pretend or hide. Instead, we can name what’s real and true, and we can heal.

Disruption: Mary

Over the course of a lifetime, we experience many disruptions. To disrupt is to cause disorder, turmoil or interruption. Routines shift in unexpected ways. Medical diagnoses catch us off-guard. Employment opportunities come and go.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a close relationship with disruption. From early on in her life, she knew what it meant to experience a major change of plans. She was engaged. She had a vision for her life. And then an angel showed up with an invitation into disruption. Mary was told she’d have a child, and that child would be God’s son. As Jesus grew up, the turmoil for Mary continued all the way to the cross.

In the midst of the many disruptions that Mary faced as the mother of Jesus, the Light continued to shine. Her openness to God’s invitation is revealed in her words upon hearing the angel’s news in Luke, chapter 1. Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Disruptions are a part of life. We can’t predict them or avoid them. But we can trust in a God who draws near to us in the midst of the realities we don’t anticipate. The Light reveals unimagined possibilities as we navigate the difficulties of disruption.

Change: Saul/Paul

Change is the constant state of the universe. People often say, “I don’t like change.” But regardless of whether we like it, it’s a guarantee. The Light of Christ illuminates in special ways in the face of change.

In the book of Acts, we encounter a man named Saul. Saul thought he had it all figured out. He was a devout religious person, and he believed fiercely that early Christians were heretics. He wanted to get rid of them. Then he experienced a complete and utter change of heart. He saw a light and heard the voice of Jesus say, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

That encounter with the True Light changed Saul forever. He was later called Paul. He became a dedicated proclaimer of the good news of Jesus. The Light shined in the midst of the changes Saul/Paul faced as he transformed from tormenter to defender.

Advent is a season in which we anticipate the Light. Jesus enters into every aspect of life, and we trust that He is especially near in the midst of challenges. In loss, failure, disruption and change, Jesus illuminates. His presence gives us the courage to navigate the winding roads of this life knowing that we never travel alone.

Discussion questions:

1. In this faith reflection, we encounter Thomas, Peter, Mary and Paul. Which story resonates with you today?

2. Share about a time you experienced loss, failure, disruption and/or change? Where did you witness the Light in the midst of that season

3. What spiritual practices are most meaningful to you during the four weeks of Advent? How do you make intentional space for the Light?

Closing prayer:

Illuminating Christ, draw near to us throughout this Advent season. Empower us to recognize your presence in the midst of the difficulties we face. As we reflect upon the stories of Thomas, Peter, Mary and Paul, remind us of the ways you walk with us as well. Thank you for your presence in all of life, even and especially the challenges. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.

Emily Carson is a curator of curiosity. She loves exploring new hiking trails and coffee shops with her husband, Justin, and their Redbone Coonhound, Finn. She is a pastor and currently serves as an Assistant to the Bishop & the Director for Evangelical Mission in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, ELCA. Find Emily on Instagram at @emilyannecarson.