The beginning of the Christian liturgical year, Advent consists of the four Sundays before Christmas. The color of the Advent season is purple, and many churches and households light the candles of an Advent wreath each Sunday, and some decorate a Jesse Tree.

Advent begins in darkness, says Fleming Rutledge in her book The Bible and the New York Times. Through the Bible passages we read during this season we live in two times at once: the time before the light of Christ has come into the world through the event at Bethlehem, and also in the present day, where we look for His return.

In both eras we find the same anguished question: Where is God? We look at the suffering, the injustice, the violence and death that fill our lives and we wonder if God is even paying attention. When, if ever, will it end? Does He plan to do anything to help us, or is grief and loss all we have to look forward to till we go to our graves and become dust?

I have on my desk a handout from my church with the readings from the third Sunday in Advent on it. The collect begins, Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come upon us. The first reading is from Isaiah: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf be unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.

The Psalmist sings of the God ...who gives justice to the oppressed, and food to those who hunger. The apostle James counsels his flock, The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.

And then there is the reading from the Gospel of Matthew, in which John the Baptist, in chains and soon to be executed, sends his disciples to ask Jesus a question: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? This passage always makes my heart ache. All the countless years of human suffering lie behind John's plea. At times when God seems silent when we need Him most, and impossibly far away, we almost dare not hope that the answer might be yes.

"Go and tell John what you hear and see," Jesus answers them. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."

God hears, and He responds. We yearn for His coming, and although we are in darkness, we see there is a light up ahead. Whether it's near or far away we cannot tell; but there is a light.