an advent reflection: in anticipation of life (and death)

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Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

an advent reflection: in anticipation of life (and death)

i posted this earlier on the eikon church blog and i thought it was worth sharing here as well. hope you enjoy.


over the last couple weeks, many of you have worshipped with us as we’ve engaged in this season called advent. through our modVent gatherings, we’ve eagerly anticipated the coming of the messiah. as we’ve learned, of course, advent simply means coming. during this season, we await the coming of a baby, in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. who is the savior. who is the one sent from god.

advent is about life. it’s about redemption. it’s about hopeful expectation. but advent is also about death. we not only await the coming of the christ child, but we await his death on a cross. we look ahead to the time of jesus’ atoning sacrifice in which he suffered in order to restore the brokenness of all creation. death, indeed, is a part of the cycle of anticipation.

as many of you are aware, i traveled to houston, texas a couple days ago after receiving word that our music leader, rob toon, had taken a serious turn for the worse. most of you know the situation with rob, but let me offer a very brief catch-up for those who are unaware. nearly 2 years ago, rob was diagnosed with leukemia. since that time, he has received treatment both at uams in little rock and now, at md anderson in houston. several months ago, rob underwent a bone marrow transplant and has since been recovering both in and out of the hospital. throughout this time, he has been battling infections and acclimation to life after a life-altering procedure.

so, a couple days ago, stephanie—rob’s wife—contacted me with news that rob’s condition had become seemingly grave and the doctors recommended she come immediately. we’ve now spent the last couple days at the hospital by rob’s side, watching his condition—i’m very glad to say—improve incredibly. at this point, things are still touch and go, but the doctors seem to think things have stabilized.

what has become very real to me in these last couple days is the reality of both life and death. spending time in the waiting room of an ICU in a cancer hospital offers plenty of time to experience that actuality. we are literally surrounded by those experiencing a sense of advent. of waiting.

but we’re keenly aware that this advent is much different than the hopeful expectation that describes our fundamental sense of the christian season of advent.

this waiting is full of fear and uncertainty and pain and stress. this waiting looks toward the reality not of life, but of death.

while we are certainly not expecting death with rob at this point, we are surrounded by many people that we pass in the halls and sit with in the waiting room that certainly do expect death of the ones they love. and it’s in these shared times that one sees the reality and the beauty of life.

the reality is that life means so much. it’s beautiful. and its ugly. and it’s tragic. and it’s wonderful. it means so much.

life is brief. it’s fleeting. it’s to be cherished. and appreciated. and lived to its fullest.

while many christians have this sense that life is just a temporary pitstop to some other eternal home, it’s in these times that you see that the gift of life is god-given and to be cherished. it isn’t to be wasted, waiting on the next life, but lived to its maximum potential. to be lived like it was a precious, precious endowment.

cancer is a ravaging thing that reminds us how beautiful life is. so, as i sit here in the midst of others who wait on death—the advent of loss—let us all remember that life is a wonderful gift from god.

let us love others, giving ourselves as if this life is as fleeting as it actually is.


as a bit of an epilogue to this post, let me share my thoughts with something other than words. in the preceding days before traveling down to houston, i became obsessed with an album (like i often do with new music discoveries) called hospice by the antlers. the story describes the singers journey of meeting a woman who he loved, finding she had bone cancer and ultimately, ending with the time when she passes away.

in some ways, the album is intensely saddening, but there’s also this glimmer of hope that affirms everything i’ve said above. in spite of the narrator’s grief, there’s a celebration of life that compels him to stay next to the side of the woman he loves. in her pain and agony and withering away, he is drawn to her side. life, indeed, means so much.

in this track, the singer learns of her cancer and the impending reality of her diagnosis. my prayer is that you find the intense power of love and grief and happiness and sadness in this track.

and in the end, my prayer is that you sense—in a roundabout way—this mysterious season of advent.

kettering by the antlers

i wish that i had known in
that first minute we met
the unpayable debt
that i owed you

’cause you’d been abused
by the bone that refused
you and you hired me
to make up for that

and walking in that room
when you had tubes in your arms
those singing morphine alarms
out of tune

they had you sleeping and eating and
and I didn’t believe them
when they called you a hurricane thunder cloud

when i was checking vitals
i suggested a smile
you didn’t talk for a while
you were freezing

you said you hated my tone
it made you feel so alone
so you told me i had to be leaving

but something kept me standing
by that hospital bed
i should have quit but instead
i took care of you

you made me sleep and uneven
and i didn’t believe them
when they told me that there
was no saving you