Behold, as the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maidservant
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
till he has mercy upon us.
Psalm 123:2, ESV
As I have sought to reconcile the hard things with this Advent season, it has occurred to me that the hard years may be the best ones for observing Advent. Advent is the season most characterized by waiting, by longing, by hope. Indeed, in the church of my childhood, the first candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of hope.
What does Paul say about hope?
Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:24-25, ESV).By definition, hope implies lack. If we have all we need or want, hope is superfluous. Impossible, even. Similarly, when we walk through loss, through trials, through the longing for the not yet, we are most aware of the unfulfilled. When we know our lack and God's promises, we are perfectly prepared to learn hope.
Advent hope gleams with the eagerness of the child of loving parents on Christmas morning. But Advent hope is also tinged with melancholy; it is a homesick virtue that recognizes we are strangers and exiles on the earth.
At Advent we look back to the hope of the promised Messiah, placing ourselves in Israel's sandals as she waited with longing for the prophet Moses foretold; for the suffering servant of Isaiah, both priest and sacrifice; for the King in David's line in whom every facet of the covenant would be realized. That retrospective hope prepares us to celebrate the full impact of the birth of Jesus Christ the God-Man, remembered at Christmas.
We look forward to the second Advent of that same Messiah: to the redemption of this groaning creation; to the day we enter the Lord's presence and know fully, as we are fully known; to the redemption of our broken and fading bodies; to our reunion with loved ones who have preceded us into the Lord's presence; to our reception and theirs of our resurrection bodies free of lupus, arthritis, Parkinson's, cancer, mental illness, MS, dysautonomia, heart disease, diabetes, Lyme disease, malnutrition, or anything else that afflicts God's people now.
In hope we look forward out of all this "slight, momentary affliction" to the "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). We recognize our poverty of spirit, soul, and body. We lean into that longing during Advent instead of trying to numb or distract from it. We lean forward with arms outstretched to the new heavens and earth where the Lion-Lamb reigns in glory (Rev. 21). We allow the sorrows and emptiness to grow our longing for God's kingdom to come, for His name to be hallowed.
With Simeon, we wait for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25). With Anna, we speak of God with thanksgiving to all who wait for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).
If you are grieving this December, may you not grieve without hope. If your now is a season of joy and fruitfulness, may the Lord enlarge your hope to a longing for the not yet. Amen.