(my submission to our church’s Advent Calendar Project for today, day 20)
Psalm 80:1-7 / Isaiah 42:10-18 / Hebrews 10:32-39
By Leslie Linebarger
For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.
And just like that, we depart, hours after we arrived. Hours after we scrambled to get there, followed by days of doing one thing and then the next thing and then the next. After all of the hard work and the hard conversations and the hardness of just getting there, we arrive at the airport so that we can turn around and go right back home. As we board the plane in the twilight of the day, the sky deepens to all shades of pinks, blues and purple, and the lights of the city begin to illuminate everything around us. There is a line of planes on the taxi-way, the longest that I’ve ever seen. We sit there on that plane, inching our way up slowly in the traffic jam of airplanes. We sit there, each of us in our own place with our own feelings, alone with our own thoughts, facing forward with our seatbelts tightly fastened. Some of us coming from visiting family, some of us going to a funeral, some of us returning from a business trip, some of us hurtling headlong into a completely unknown future. All of us human beings with all of the joy and grief and heartbreak and delight that comes with being human.
Slowly, ever so slowly, we round the corner of the taxiway, and suddenly the tiniest sliver of a yellow moon becomes visible on the eastern horizon, reclining on its back with Venus shining brightly just over its left shoulder. As the plane inches ever closer, it occurs to me that I’m breathing deeply for the first time in days. This is an unfamiliar feeling but not at all an unwelcome one. It’s a feeling that must be something close to letting go, or release, and I feel it welling up within me, this glorious deliverance from the constant fight to just barely hang on. And finally, finally, as my breath has grown deep and a calm has come over me in the midst of the waiting, it’s our turn.
The engines rumble louder underneath us as we speed toward that fingernail clipping of a moon that we had glimpsed earlier. We are shoved back in our seats as the wheels come up, and we grip our armrests, pushing against gravity and its relentless hold on our bodies. In silence we rise into the night sky, the city lights below us crisp in the clear December air, scattered everywhere in no apparent order, seeming to dance as they twinkle up at us. In the midst of the dancing, chaotic colors of tiny, sparkling lights, there are also large, soft circles of yellow light lining the streets, constant and unmoving; the circles on the ground put there by the streetlights above them, straight and orderly, guiding drivers home ever so gently. The colors are many and lights are tiny, spread out beneath us for miles and miles. I press my face to the window and gaze at the vastness of humanity and I catch my breath at the beauty of it all. Yes, this is release. This is letting go. I am free and I am soaring through the night sky and I have zero control. As the city lights begin to fade away, the darkness spreads over the vast, growing, black ocean of an earth beneath us. The mountains before us are swallowed up in the impending darkness.
All is now black.
But I have hope in the midst of the darkness.
I am on my way home.
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us. Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.