The world’s weary – no secret there. I bet we can think of plenty of heavy things – if we’re not carrying them ourselves – and remember weary people – if we aren’t them ourselves.
Why does this taxed, tired world rejoice?
What about Christmas sparks hope? Why do we anticipate this season, the most wonderful time of the year? Part of the reason, I think, is just that: a thrill of hope.
The words beginning the Christmas story give a hint: God with us. How does God respond to the world He loves, to the lowliness of humanity in need of a savior? With the life of His Son wrapped in flesh, sent right into the mess.
At that time, God’s people were expecting the Messiah as a valiant military leader who'd overthrow oppressive rulers. Instead, a baby was born in a messy manger, and a message of peace was proclaimed to humble shepherds. In the middle of Advent, a long, slow lesson of hope I'd been learning began to make sense: hope brings joys; expectation disappoints.
Friends, I am not talking about expectation eagerly awaiting the fulfillment of promises. There is a different type of unhealthy expectation, and I must admit I know it too well. This expectation sits down, taps its foot, glances at the clock, and doesn’t bother to look around. Henri Nouwen said “[waiting] is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes. For this reason, a lot of waiting is not open-handed. But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is always open-handed.”
Being more hopeful makes us more like Jesus. He sees the best in people, pushing them to be holy, wholly who God created them to be. God, who does not want any to perish, is hopeful. If God is love – and love hopes all things – then God is certainly hopeful.
I see a prophetic hope rising in Jesus’ followers. (Older and wiser people may say it’s been surfacing for a while.) I see it in every #MeToo and #ChurchToo, in every woman who knows her worth and dares to be brave for such a time as this. In those standing up against the anti-gospel evil of racism – and those humble and broken enough to admit they’ve work to do. In the justice-seekers making space and quieting so the voiceless can speak. In truth-speakers who persevere despite backlash and hate. And – I believe this seed of hope can be planted in you and me, even if we don’t feel brave or hopeful. After all, God’s response to the cry of dry bones and lost hope is life and Spirit.
You see, hope is not ignorant or unaware. Hope looks fear, injustice, sin, death, and lies head-on and says, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.” And what we’re celebrating this season – the arrival of the Word made flesh – allows us to join in the making of all things new.
There’s something about hope that eventually leads to action. Expectation can wander dangerously close to apathy or comfort or laziness... but hope propels and frees and anchors, all at the same time. If we have this hope – Christ has come, Christ is here, and Christ is coming – in hope, we must keep going.
This Christmas may we place every ounce of our hope in the God who dwells among us. May we have eyes to see Him, the hope of the whole world and every longing heart, in unlikely and lowly places. May we see with His perspective. May the God of hope fill us with joy and peace so our lives, full of the life-giving Spirit, brim over with hope.