Typically, the Christmas season is portrayed as a time of boundless celebration, wonder, and joy. There is a steady stream of parties, presents, and tables that overflow with the finest of food and seasonal drink. The lights are hung with precision. The presents are wrapped with sparkle and flair. And the desires of countless children are etched onto physical and digital wish lists. With so much singing and festivity, it is easy to overlook what lies beneath the thin veneer. Even during the Advent season, there is enormous brokenness and pain. Even at Christmas, our world hurts. More than another kitchen gadget or gift card, what we need most is a message that addresses our real stories and our real lives. Drawing from the Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, what we need are “tidings of comfort and joy.”
For the Advent season this year, we are turning to an unconventional source of wisdom: the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This short, five-chapter book tucked away in often unread places, is poetic lament. It is a creative yet devastating declaration of honesty about the destruction of Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion of 586 BC. In its historic sense, it captures the essence of the Jewish condition before the coming of Jesus in a poem. They were a people of exile who were crying out in their pain for help. And their cries, like our own, are only fully answered by the coming of the baby born in Bethlehem. During this Advent season, we are looking to reclaim the lost art of lament that prepares us more deeply to see the comfort and joy of Jesus, the incarnated expression of God’s steadfast love. Honest, unbridled lament is a perfect backdrop to discover the true wonder of Christmas.