Another dark December rolled around, the first week of Advent. At church we prayed that God would “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.” Greenery was hung and a rousing chorus of “Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending” echoed out the door.
That evening, as dark clouds rolled across the sky outside, with cold rain falling, I turned on the solitary bedroom reading light, sipped a peppermint latte, curled up under a warm fuzzy blanket, and once again opened a book to read the familiar words: “When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.”
Who knows how habits begin? (Or even how hobbits begin?) Years ago—thirteen of them, to be exact—I was an eager graduate student in my late 20s, the first Lord of the Rings movie was coming out, and I was dating an excitable, well-read chatterbox of a Tolkien fan. (We’ve now been married for over a decade.) I’d read the famous saga once in my college days, and as a proposed date-at-the-movies rolled around, I thought it best to refresh my memory of what lurked between the fairly wide-spread covers of what had recently been named the 20th century’s greatest book.
When I started to read on the first Sunday of Advent, I fell into the sweep of the story’s battle between good and evil, and I climbed out at some point in March. The next December as the beginning of the church year rolled around again, I picked up the book again and went down the rabbit hole (or should I say hobbit hole?) once more.
The book became an odd companion every year as I walked through prophecies about Christ’s coming, sang hymns, and lit candles; as I stood on the edges of secular seasonal celebrations with their requirements of good cheer, twinkly decorations, and extensive shopping. It sat with me under the Christmas tree. It echoed in my head as the 25th dawned and the Christmas carols rang out through the skies, as the wise men trooped along their sandy roads until Epiphany, as snow gathered outside, and then as spring came and buds poked out and slush littered the roadside, as the church readings told me stories of Christ’s ministry and began to outline his journey to Jerusalem.
In the mythos of Tolkien’s story, March 25th is the day when what he called his “eucatastrophe” happens—the climax of the story when joy overwhelms sadness and good, evil. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and the 25th has long been celebrated in church tradition as the day the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her the most stupendous eucatastrophe anyone has ever been told anywhere: God is coming, with justice and healing in his wings. It turned out that I ended up finishing the book around then every year, nearly always around the same time the Scripture readings had brought me face to face with the sobering realizations of Ash Wednesday and the long dark road of amendment of life we call Lent.
The book went with me, too, through eleven years of marriage, two children, four jobs, three moves, two deaths of family members, a calling to ordained ministry, and the countless small achievements and disappointments of every day. As time went on, quotes began to seep into my everyday responses and thoughts. No, I don’t live in a world where heroic armies battle on windswept fields. But I do live in a world where the wrong seems oft so strong, and where small faithfulness in the midst of hopelessness seems to be the only thing that ever brings down the nefarious plans of the great. And every year, as I read, I end up thinking about where I am in that picture. Am I laboring on even as darkness falls? Or have I succumbed to thinking I can wield power without humility?
Now it is December again. Rain falls outside my window. Darkness looms. People on city streets cry for justice. My fuzzy blanket and fuzzy socks seem utterly incapable of effecting any change, of holding back the Shadow from covering the earth. But I read on. And as I do, my eyes cast back over the years of grace, and I turn to the words I have come to this evening, and I hold on.
“Courage is found in unlikely places,” said Gildor. “Be of good hope! Sleep now! In the morning we shall have gone; but we will send our messages through the lands. The Wandering Companies shall know of your journey, and those that have power for good shall be on the watch. I name you Elf-friend; and may the stars shine upon the end of your road!”
Best Of 2014
How do you measure a year? Days? Cups of coffee? Celebrations? Goodbyes? In 2014, something we’ve noticed at the High Calling is more and more people engaging with the message that God cares about everything in life—even the most mundane moments.
In the end, we consider 2014 a success if we have served you well, Reader. Some may consider it a strange way to show love: typing on a keyboard and submitting content into the faceless void of the Internet. This is why your actions matter so much to us. When you spend a few minutes reading an article, when you share a video or a Facebook post, we know you were inspired. When you send us a short note, you give us an opportunity to listen to you.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for spending time with us.
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