The Dissonance of Advent

I’ve really appreciated Advent this year. I don’t mean in a Pinterest, made a hand-made ornament out of cinnamon with my children every day sort of way. I mean that the season of Advent just feels really right, somehow.

It feels good to remember that Christianity has this tension built into it because we don’t live in a world where things are all as they should be. Still we are told that God loves us and is always, always doing His best for us. There is confusion built into that, and no small amount of cognitive dissonance sometimes as I try to sort through a tangle of thoughts about God. You know the great thing about dissonance in music though? Eventually it resolves. There is a cadence. That is the promise of Advent. Advent promises that whatever modulation we find ourselves in now, we will get back to tonic eventually. It invites us to sit with tension and hope. Humans desire a deep sense of security and if that is to be found in our surroundings, we often don’t look further. Dissonance draws us out do deal with it, though. I once got my toddler to start cleaning up by playing a cadence a few times and then only playing the first chord and not resolving it until she moved to start putting her toys away. Dissonance is unstable, and even a small child can tell that our ears want unstable harmonies to resolve.

Dissonance of any type can be deafening. It can make it seem like everything’s just noise. It can be interpreted as such, if I choose. There is logic to assuming that we crave pattern and sense from the universe because we were made for it, but there is also logic to assuming that we only seem to see a pattern because we want to; sometimes circumstances seem to imply there is no intentionality governing what happens to us. Maybe, though, to judge all of reality by those moments of greatest dissonance is like trying to explain the legend of King Arthur by saying it’s about some guy who sleeps with his sister. That explanation is not without basis, but it also doesn’t really tell us the whole story.

I wish I could explain the whole story. Of everything. It would be so nice to be able to tell my friends, “This is why this is happening to you.” It would have been so comforting last year to say to my husband, “You’re sick now and it’s awful, but you’re going to be fine. I read ahead and you don’t have a lifelong debilitating illness after all.”

Advent reminds us that not being reconciled to our circumstances is allowed. We are made for more than complacency. We don’t get easy answers. We get Advent. We get a promise that we are not crazy for thinking that this is not how it’s supposed to be.

 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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.

I 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.

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 does he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With 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!

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