There has been a lot written about the waiting of Advent, about the way it is an active, expectant waiting, about the hope and faith it involves. Perhaps we don't so often think about the way that the waiting and yearning for a Messiah came from the depths of despair, the urgent place you reach when you have just waited to long and are almost hoping against hope for deliverance, looking for a new way when there seems no way forward. Psalm 130 is surely an Advent psalm which articulates the desperate longing for redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
The metaphors of Advent speak to us of this place where we have almost relinquished hope. The resonance of the people who walk in darkness is indeed beautiful, but if you have ever tried to walk in darkness you will know that it is a frustrating, stumbling process where you are as likely to stub a toe, fall over or go around in circles as to make much progress. Likewise the metaphor of the barren woman, Elizabeth, hoping against hope for a child, involves as much anguish and despair as it does anticipation. Perhaps much of this relates to the situation in Palestine at the time of Christ's birth. The longing of the Jews for a Messiah who would restore power as well as peace and prosperity must, in the midst of disappointment and the hated Roman rule, have seemed a desperate and futile hope.
Then there is John the Baptist out on the margins in his wilderness, not fertile ground but another place of barrenness and desertion where hope finds it hard to take root and he is not a person but a voice crying in anguish and defiance for a straight way where there is no path to be found. John is a rather extreme figure with his strange clothes and diet and calls for repentance alongside alarming descriptions of winnowing forks and burning up the chaff, and so he should be because Advent waiting is the waiting of those who have reached a point beyond, they wait more than the watchmen wait for the dawn. It all smacks of a very, very long, barren night of the soul.
In our twenty first century world with global warming, economic recession, atrocity, conflict and war there are plenty of reasons for humanity to cry out for deliverance from the depths of despair. Christ never came to deliver us from the Romans but more to deliver us from ourselves and from the human greed and selfishness that has always led us to mess the world up and continues to do so, perhaps just on a larger scale. Psalm 130 also shows us that we find redemption through a despair at our own folly, a reliance upon God's mercy and a willingness to embrace a new way.Advent is about repentance. Crying from the depths of despair to be saved from ourselves still offers our best chance of hope.