It was 8 pm on June 28, 2019. We were waiting for our tour guide for a special after hours tour of St. Marks Basilica in Venice, Italy. The write up online had promised this was the tour to beat the crowds and experience this amazing space in an intimate, small group experience. When we got to St. Marks we had spent the day traipsing around Venice in 90+ degree heat. We had walked miles on the cobblestones and ridden a gondola. We even watched pigeons stealing pizza from unsuspecting tourists! We had one day in Venice and wanted to see every bit we could and not miss a thing. We had possibly crammed too much of a good thing in too little time, but who knew if we would ever get back to Venice? This was a once in a lifetime trip. By the time we got to St. Marks we were exhausted, tired, and perhaps a bit grumpy. This tour of St. Marks was supposed to be the highlight of our day, but we arrived as weary travelers and honestly just wanted to find the Irish pub we had heard about that was going to play the Women’s World Cup game that night–USA verses France. (Apparently the only place to watch in Venice!)
Our tour guide finally arrived. We had to wait for stragglers and that meant more standing around in the heat. We finally got in the door, but there was more standing and waiting. Our guide showed us in the foyer mosaics and how they told the story of Abraham and Moses. The mosaics were gorgeous, but we were hot, packed in with other “small groups” and still standing on mistreated feet and legs. It was beautiful, but we had been in many churches at this point and a chair and cool drink sounded like heaven. I decided we could just walk in, do a quick walk around, then leave, go watch soccer in a chair with cool drink.
We finally got into the sanctuary. It was not well lit. It was oven hot. We could see some of the mosaics, but the dim lighting was making it hard to get an appreciation for the overall space. My heart fell as I remembered reading they only put the lights on during the day between 11 am and 1 pm. I was shocked as I had assumed that they would have the lights on at night at the very least. Soccer. Chair. Cool Drink.
They invite us to all sit down, so we do. We are all trying to look around in the dim lighting, but can’t see much. The guide says she will be right back and ducks out with the other guides. There are about 100 of us in this very large space. All of the lights go out except for one very small light, high and to the right. Now we can see nothing other than the hint of arches. Then slowly, ever so slowly, the lights start getting lighter, like they were all on a big dimmer switch. One area would lighten, then another. Over the course of a few minutes the lights all got to full brightness and the room was awash with the glow of millions of gold leaf backed glass tiles which were assembled into mosaics. The artistry of the local glass makers was in full splendor. It was holy ground.
As a matter of fact, even though we had been told no photos in the space, our guide said we could take photos because other groups were. I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the space and was in such a state of worship, I was unable to even pull out my camera because what would I pick out of all of this beauty to focus on? What one thing could I take a picture of? It was all worthy. I sat there and worshipped our God who gave me the gift I really needed that moment. Time to sit with God. The guide came back ready to get us up and walk us around the room. The whole group of about 20 of us just wanted to sit. To soak it in. We didn’t need the history or the information. We didn’t need to know what everything was. We just needed to sit and take it in.
This memory really struck me as we start Advent. Many of us make it to Advent weary. Maybe from life. Maybe from Thanksgiving. Maybe from good stuff. Maybe from bad stuff. We come weary wanting to check out and distract ourselves with our own equivalent of soccer, a chair, and a cool drink. Our very souls are more weary than our bodies. I think the culture’s view of Christmas adds to this. We have the compulsion to decorate a little more. Shop a little more. Cram a little more into a crazy busy day.
This is where Advent finds us. This is where the focus this first week of Advent focused on Hope offers us respite. Hope for something beyond what we can cram into our days. Sometimes we get here and finding even a spark of hope in our worlds is too much to—well—hope for. Advent is a time to sit down, slow down, turn down the noise of our lives, focus on the coming of Jesus into our worlds, until we can see that first spark of hope. Then let that hope lighten our world so that we can see the full glory of God.
I invite you to take some time this Advent to sit down. Maybe light a candle, or Christmas lights or your Christmas tree. Listen to some Christmas music. Read some of the Advent passages in scripture. Rest.
The glory of God is right there, sometimes we need to experience the darkness to see the fullness of it.
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
(Isaiah 40:1-5, NRSV)
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