This is a long (and longing) post looking toward Advent. A little.

I led a funeral last week. I read Psalm 42. And then I talked about longing. 

In Psalm 42, the writer starts with the image of a deer, running through the woods, winded, worn out, longing for water. And then uses that image to talk about a worn and weary soul.

We understand that right now, many of us. Our bodies are tired from disruptions of schedules and sleep. Our minds are exhausted from all that we have to remember and forget, from all the parts of our life that used to be routine but are now something we have to think about.

And our souls are tired, too.

That part of us who sings to God in worship is struggling to find words right now. We remember what it was like to gather and sing, and how we sometimes took it for granted, we are missing it. I remember our friend sitting in worship here, his wife with him. That worship together we remember, and our soul misses it.

That part of us that rests in God is struggling to get comfortable.

That part of us that cries out to God is wondering whether we are being too cranky and is worrying a little about our lack of faith and respect.

That part of us that longs to know that there is more to this life is starting to dread what is going to come next.

Our souls are tired.

And like the psalmist, we talk to our souls.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?

The answer comes several times in that Psalm.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?  Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Sometimes we hear this as, “just trust God.” What’s so helpful to me, though as I read through the psalm, is that the answer isn’t a one-time thing, as if we should be able to tell our souls to trust God once and we’ll be happy forever.

The psalmist captures the waves that come over us in times of grief and loss. We’re fine for a minute: Our friend is with Jesus. His body is all better. And then we have that wave of grief: “But I miss him. I wish I could see him again. I wish I could see him laugh at the idea of pink flowers and a pink casket.”

Those waves are what it means to be human. We live day by day, we feel moment by moment. When the psalmist says, “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him” it’s not a “trust God and be happy.”

I will put my hope in God. And sometime yet, sometime eventually, I know I will praise my Savior and God. Maybe not today. Maybe not at this moment. But I will sometime. And in the meantime, I’m trusting. Or better, I’m longing.

We don’t often use the word “longing”. Most of us. It feels like poetry, or like a romance novel.

I get it.

But I also know that some people, including our friend, like being outside. In the trees, by the lake, in the wind and the smell of pine or of oak, there is a peacefulness, a sense of being home. And when we go for awhile without that, we have this feeling that things aren’t right with us. And if we are inside for too long, days or weeks, there is something in us that almost starts to ache. We’re anxious to get out to the woods, to the water, to the weather.

That’s longing.

I’m guessing that our friend was longing for outside. He was longing to move. He was longing to speak. It’s okay to long for the right things.

It’s okay to long for the presence of God.

But right now, that’s really hard. We’re not longing. Or better, we’re longing backward, not forward. 

It’s the end of the third quarter of 2020. As we consider the fourth quarter, which starts tomorrow, many of us are looking with anticipation and dread. Fearful anticipation that something more will fall apart. Dread that the worst will happen.

I’ve starting thinking about these feelings of longing and dread and anticipation because Advent is coming at the end of November. Advent is intended as a season to reflect on both the first and the second coming of the Christ. In most years, we are caught up in the busy-ness and worry of Christmas and we need a reminder to slow down. We need to slow down to appreciate the implications of God putting on a body and being with us. We need to reflect, perhaps, on the first Advent not being the end of the story.

This year, we are caught up in the worry and hesitancy of the year and we need a reminder to, well, a reminder to reflect. Many of us are uncertain that there is any application of God putting on a body when we cannot trust our bodies to be safe. Some of us are starting to think apocalyptically the way Saint John the revelator did, others of us are simply thinking apocalyptically.

And as I was preparing for the funeral, I was aware that there have been more than 200,000 excess deaths this year in the US, deaths more than average. That’s millions of people feeling weary. 

I’m starting to work on our readings for Advent this year here at 300. I’d be happy for you to buy copies of Saint John at the Mall to give to others, of course, but for you and me, we’re going to explore longing and comfort and grief and presence and hope. 

I can’t share more than that at this point. Partially because I’m not ready, partially because I don’t know. But I am looking forward to looking at you and helping us. Actually, I’m longing to learn about longing. 

That’s my plan for the fourth quarter of 2020. I hope you’ll stick around.