All Advent, All the Time

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By Tom Boogaart

Both of my parents died in late winter of this year, and we committed their bodies to the ground: a real committal service. No hiding the hole in the ground and no covering the dirt with green astro-turf, we blessed the hole, and we took the dirt in our hands and threw it on the coffin. Dust to dust.

After each service, I took the time to walk around and visit the graves of my grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and cousin, all of them now lying together, facing east, and waiting .

Strange really, when I stop to think about it. Waiting.

It is all advent, all the time. Life is a season of waiting for death to come, and death is a season waiting for life to come.

Waiting in the face of death is hard work. Holding the dirt in my hand and throwing it on the coffins of both my father and mother made dirt all too real.

Under the influence of a materialistic culture, I am tempted to believe that dirt is all there is, to believe that the human body is just a temporary conglomeration of organic molecules eternally changing form. I begin to fear that no one is coming to reconstitute my parents let along the billions of people lying in the ground along with them. I lament with the exiles of Israel: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” (Isaiah 64:1). I know it is not polite to say this in Christian company, but we all at some deep level have faced this fear.

After my father died, my mother set a large photograph of him—in his mid-forties with his characteristic half-smile—on the table next to her lazy-boy recliner. I did not pay much attention to it. But a few weeks after she died, my brothers and I were cleaning her room and found five sheets of paper in the drawer of the table under the photograph. It was in her handwriting, verses of a poem, a love poem to my father.

For weeks, she had been looking at that photograph and trying to put her love for him into words. The sheets were full of verses in no apparent order, many stops and starts, words crossed out and replaced. I took the sheets home, did a little editing, and put the verses in order.

The poem referenced how difficult her life had been as a girl and young women. How cruelly she had been treated—something we all intuited as children but something she never talked about with us. And then there were these lines:
Your love lifted me
From a life of misery.
I had the best by any measure,
A life full of every pleasure.
In you a lost girl was found,
Filled with love to spread around.

Embodied in my father, the love of God had come to my mother. It is all advent, all the time. My mother had realized the hope of advent in her life and had little reason to doubt it in her death.

Waiting in the face of death is hard work. Yet, however hard it may be for us to grasp on a grand scale that a loving messiah is coming to resurrect the dead and restore all things, we have on a smaller scale manifestations of this truth throughout our lives. Your love lifted me from a life of misery.

Tom Boogaart teaches Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.

Comments 10

  1. In many ways, I’m sure, she left you a blessing; but what a gift of grace and peace, to find that little poem of hers. Thanks for telling us the story.

  2. Thank you, Tom. How I remember them from Third Church. You mother beamed with love for your dad…a cherished memory for me.
    Diana Paulsen Walker

  3. I wish we picked up handfuls of dirt and threw them onto the lowered casket as a matter of course as they tend to do in England. We continue to sanitize death in America, as though it is too painful to face death’s reality. Of course, it IS painful, but we sidestep that fact.

  4. I am blessed by your words today, and swept backward 5 decades seeing the photo of your father, a good man!
    Barry Koops

  5. You suggest, Tom, at one point in your article, “I know it is not polite to say this in Christian company, but we all at some deep level have faced this fear.” If we are Christians, perhaps, we should all face some deep fears. Your fear, if influenced by our culture, is that no one is coming to reconstitute your parents. But, as a Christian, you know better and are greatly comforted.

    Perhaps its not polite in Christian circles to talk about the billions of people that God will sentence to an eternity of damnation and great suffering. That’s my fear. Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, people with a vague belief in God, all going to an eternal damnation at the hand of God.

    Of course, this isn’t a reasonable assumption. A reasonable assumption would be that because God is a loving God, what happens here on earth does not have eternal repercussions in eternity and that the eternal future of everyone starts with a new beginning. We know that the Christian perspective (heaven for a few, hell for the many) is not reasonable because it requires a special revelation to come to such a conclusion.

    I have great comfort in regard to my parents who are long gone too. And I also have great comfort for the billions who didn’t believe as my parents did. Praise God.

  6. Having lost both parents and a sister at Christmas, Advent is always a reminder of standing graveside, my feet rooted to the ground, as their coffins were lowered into the ground – putting a finality to their deaths. I just came across a phrase in a Richard Rohr devotional, which your statement, “it is all Advent all the time,” reminds me of. Rohr wrote, “remember, Advent is always—until the end of days.”
    Thank you for sharing this.

    Helen Phillips

  7. Beautiful! Simply beautiful! There is so much in this post to take in. It is a beautiful tribute to your parents. It is a thought provoking piece about death….and about life, both now and what is yet to come. Thank you for posting this during a season when Christ followers should stand out and yet, all to often, blend in to the frenzy of decorating, shopping and parties. “It is all advent, all the time.” Can we even begin to imagine what could happen if we lived like it?

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