It’s the darkest time of the year. Nights are long and discouragement hits hard. Grief, unmet longings and unexpected changes weigh heavily on our spirits when the calendar calls us to be festive. We echo the feeling of despair we hear in the fourth verse of this Carol:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth, I said,
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.

–Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“There isn’t any peace,” he says, pouring out his lament to God. And in this very act of lamenting, he remembers God’s faithfulness, and his heart is opened to a new meaning in the bells of Christmas.

I can relate. It’s not that I’m always depressed in the winter—but I do get stressed! Yet on Christmas Eve I go to church and I hear the carols and I see the lights—and I remember God’s faithfulness, and his peace lights up my darkness.

I want to see the light a bit earlier in the season. And I have found a way to deliberately seek it. Before I explain, let’s take a moment to consider why these celebrations exist. Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas are all commemorations of God’s faithfulness. The point of Thanksgiving can get drowned in the gravy, Christmas gets buried in sparkly paper, and Advent…what is Advent, exactly?

I think for many people “Advent” simply means a countdown to Christmas, a little door to open on a calendar (did you ever buy one of those awesome calendars with a little chocolate behind each flap?). But Advent is traditionally a remembrance of God’s faithfulness, a commemoration of the long centuries that God’s people waited for the Savior.

I used to feel so out of sync in the weeks leading up to Christmas. My husband is a musician and a teacher, so his calendar is quite full between Mid-November and December 25. We put off our own festivities and decorating until Mark is done with school for the Christmas break. When the kids were little and they needed naps and early bedtimes, I spent most of the Advent season at home. Everyone else seemed to be running around decorating and baking and celebrating from the moment they turned the calendar to the December page.

One year I read an Advent devotional and I discovered that I was not at all out of sync. Millions of people all over the world spend this season waiting and anticipating, saving their celebrating for Christmas itself and the twelve days following. I read the scriptures that are traditionally read during Advent, and I found them to be full of comfort and hope. Celebrating Advent, in my own way at home, brings me peace and focuses me on God’s faithfulness. This is the way I deliberately seek light in a dark season.

Last year, I realized that I needed to share this forgotten season when my friend told me she wasn’t in the Christmas spirit. “Everyone else is decorating and shopping,” she said, “and I’m just tired and discouraged.”

“Well, of course, you’re not in the spirit,” I thought, “It’s November twenty-eighth.” I kept my sarcastic thoughts to myself and mentioned Advent. I was startled when she said, “Oh, that’s just something else to do, and I can’t handle any more projects.” I couldn’t think of a reply. I don’t do any Advent projects. I light candles every week—when I remember.

A few days later I talked with a friend whose husband is in the beginning stages of dementia. She said she just wasn’t feeling the joy of Christmas yet. I said, “This is why I really appreciate the season of Advent, with its reminder that we are all waiting for Jesus within a broken world. Advent gives us hope, while not denying or ignoring the darkness around us.” My friend said she’d never heard of Advent in that way.

I planned an Advent study, but when I met with my Bible study leaders, I found that I would be starting this study two weeks earlier than I had planned! In fact, we are beginning this study before Thanksgiving! Isn’t that just the way things go this time of year—we make plans, but they get rearranged. I’ve come to the conclusion that Thanksgiving and Advent have a lot in common, though. They both remind us of God’s faithfulness.

I invite you to join me in a study of people and promises. We’ll spend two weeks looking at Biblical people who trusted God’s promises. They show us how to worship and depend on God during times of loss and longing and change. Next, we’ll spend the four weeks of Advent looking at scriptures of promise. We’ll find treasures of comfort and hope. And then, when Christmas arrives, we’ll see God’s promises come true. We’ll also see how his faithfulness carries us in every dark season.