Before our son Everett was born, I was a seventh grade English teacher. Every year, my students wrote narratives. They wrote about super hero ninjas fighting evil nachos, time-travel to the Jurassic age, and, in the Twilight years, lots of teenaged damsels falling in love with vampires. The one common thread was that each story was to follow a traditional narrative arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. My students had learned these terms in sixth grade, and probably in elementary school as well, but the terminology was difficult for them to retain. The one term I could always count on them to remember was “climax.”
“It’s the most exciting part!” they would shout, usually just as I was writing the word on the white board above the arc I’d drawn for the lesson.
“That’s part of the definition,” I would say. “But there are often many exciting moments in a narrative. How do you know which one is the climax?”
This question usually stumped them. We read a few stories and found the climax in each. We talked about how the climax was not in the middle of the story, it was closer to the end. And, with the help of the textbook, we found this secret: the climax is the point at which the eventual outcome of the story becomes clear.
The home team scores a tie-breaking goal. The wizard appears on the crest of the hill at dawn, flanked with reinforcements. The heroine halts at airport security and makes her way back through the crowd. These are the moments of climax. There is still a game to finish, a battle to be fought, a relationship to mend, but this is the point at which we know how the story will end.
We live our lives in the falling action. The climax is over: Jesus, our Savior, has come! He was born a tiny baby in a stable, he lived a life of love and grace and challenge and peacemaking and turned the world upside down, and then he died. But here is the key: he rose! He was lifted up, tortured, forsaken, and killed, but that was not the end; it was only the beginning of the climax, because three days later he appeared in a garden, alive and breathing, walking among the trees. Death saw the writing on the wall and knew how all of this would end. So do we.
We live in the falling action. We know how our story will resolve – peace and love and grace and the whole world made new – but we are not there yet. We are in the in-between, the ushering in of the already-not-yet-kingdom. The way we live in this in-between time matters a great deal, but it will not change the final outcome of the story, because the events that determined that outcome have already unfolded. Now, in peace and love and grace and kindness, we are to live our way into the resolution. The goal has been scored, the wizard has come, the heroine has turned; God came in the flesh, conquered death, and is both here now and coming back again. This is the knowledge that allows us to live in hope and anticipation, in Advent.
Last night I drove in the dark to Bekah’s house for a night of creativity with our Circle. I had just gotten word of a tragedy in the life of a friend-of-a-friend, and my heart ached with the knowledge that all is not right with the world. Then, as I turned onto Bekah’s street, I saw three deer grazing in front of a house. The house was dark, unlike many others already lit by Christmas lights. The deer stopped, and I stopped, and we looked at each other. Clouds rolled over the moon. The deer flicked their ears and time slowed down. We acknowledged each other in our waiting.
This is Advent: the time in the dark before the glittery lights and the Christmas songs. The stopping, the waiting, the acknowledgement that all is not as it is supposed to be. The glimmer of moonlight cutting through the clouds in reassurance: we know how this story will end.
I am hopeful for us this Advent. Christmas is coming; it is here and not-yet-here. Jesus has come and gone (but not gone) and is coming again. We live in a world marked by despair, mourning, chaos and apathy, but we know that hope and joy and peace and love are coming and that they are here, now. Let’s watch for them, cling to them, and usher them in. Let’s be glimmers of moonlight in the dark.
Let us wait in hope.