Advent is a ritual, but we don't meet it the same way each year. Not if we're honest.
I've written about Hope during Advents past, but they were different songs. So, for better or worse, this is my 2016 song, "Advent 1: Hope."
We need Hope when things aren't ideal. We hold it close so that we can begin to dream and imagine reconciliation with our circumstances, forgiveness, inner peace. As we get older, we learn that things are almost never ideal. We constantly need Hope.
This year I am walking through the Advent season with my own list of realities. Some of them are good and some of them are less than desirable. Still, they are true and immediate. You have your own list. Your list is probably varied, like mine, and true.
A long time ago I lost track of what I assumed was my sense of Hope - a feeling that everything would resolve favorably for everybody because . . . well . . . I don't know why. I think maybe the word "reconcile" meant something different to me back then. And there are, indeed, preachers all over the place who share a gospel of prosperity - a message promising good times and good fortune to those who believe "enough" and pray "the right way."
Oh, friends. I know so much more about Hope now than I did when I was younger. I remember going through a time just toward the end of graduate school when I was very sad that this innocent optimism was gone from my faith journey. It seemed to me that I may have lost my sense of "goodness" about the world and my own life. Fortunately, through relationships with others and experiences of my own, I began to understand that Hope might not have anything to do with a "happy ending," but rather company along the way. The company of God, my Maker. The company of Jesus, my brother. The company of the Holy Spirit, my pillar of fire . . . my glimpse of holiness in the mundane.
It's natural that a certain murkiness would hang around the edges of hopeful feelings. We hope when we're in the dark. Hope doesn't cause the darkness to flee from us. Hope helps us to see where we're going in spite of the dark. Maybe we only see a few steps at a time. Maybe we don't immediately like what we see. But we do see it. And we continue to wait and expect the gift of simply seeing the next few steps. That's hope. For me, hope is the state of trusting that I'll be able to see my next couple of steps, and that I won't be alone while I come to terms with them. That's "God with us."
A list of some of my realities this Advent season (perhaps we share a few things in common here):
- Woodmore Elementary School (grief)
- The loss of former students to violence (grief)
- Dr. Tsai (grief)
- hospice for a loved one (grief)
- a beautiful baby boy (thanksgiving)
- a wide variety of familial relationships (thanksgiving)
- a quiet season with no large musical commitments (thanksgiving, at this time in my life)
- many students and the energy to teach them (thanksgiving)
- new songs and a voice to sing them (thanksgiving)
Friends, last year I had a list with different things on it. I didn't bother to write it down and now I can't remember what would have been included. I know for sure it was different than what I've shared with you. And, of course, I've not shared my whole list with you. I have to confess - this year has been heavy with grief for me, as it has been and is for others. So? Hope.
I have enough Hope that I do believe God will rise up from the rubble and loss in different ways. I have enough Hope to see my next few steps. I have enough Hope to continue teaching and enough Hope to continue writing (even though I never have any idea who's going to hear the music!) . . . . it's enough. That's "God with us." It's not the same as "God fixes us" or "God makes our lives perfect." No. "God with us" is better because it's true.
Reader, please don't feel discouraged as you look around and appreciate the realities that give form to your life. I'm sure you see the diversity I do - some good, some not so good. God is with you even as you face the rocky stuff. Good things and prosperity are not the only proofs of the presence of God. If you've been a Pilgrim making this journey for very long you've already learned about this. God shows up in the wreckage just as surely as we see His face in the blazing glory of the morning light.
Emmanuel, "God with us," is with you, too.