Advent is a season of Hope. We allow our hearts to long for the coming of Jesus. We dare to desire more.
The Church’s liturgy invites us to listen attentively to the prophets, who burned with an eagerness for the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah imagines what things will be like: swords turned into plowshares, a definitive end to war; the desert blooming with flowers; the blind restored to sight, the deaf restored to hearing, the lame leaping with joy; the lion and the lamb living in harmony; the stump of Jesse blossoming and bearing fruit.
In one sense, the longed-for Messiah has come. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Humans and angels alike who participated in the events of that night were bursting with joy and praise.
In another sense, nothing has changed. There seems to be just as much greed, devouring, exploitation, hatred, contempt, abuse, and violence as in Jesus’ day.
In one sense, Jesus has definitively won the victory. When we get to Holy Week, we will remember his words on the Cross: “It is finished.” At Easter we will celebrate him as the lamb once slain who lives, never to die again.
In another painfully real sense, as you and I embrace everyday life in these challenging times, that victory feels anything but assured.
Many aspects of life went “back to normal” nine months ago. But no amount of socializing or traveling, getting or spending has restored joy or peace. Many of us feel depleted, burnt out, or discouraged. We struggle to remember how long ago things happened, and feel a great uncertainty and dis-ease about where things are headed. Even when we keep returning to our holy desires, we can sometimes feel stuck.
I have a word for this dis-ease: being HopeSick. I’m sure I’m not the first one to think it up. I sometimes feel sick amidst my hoping. And yes, like the prophet Jeremiah, sometimes I cry out to the Lord because I am feeling sick of hoping.
I was expressing this felt heartache to a wise mentor, who suggested the metaphor of sickness – not as a moral failing (any more than Covid or the flu is a character flaw) but as a point of powerlessness. We all know those moments of a disease in which we feel utterly overwhelmed. We can’t change anything; we can’t alleviate anything. Even if we know it will eventually pass, we have no way of knowing how long, and we notice no signs of relenting.
There are also aches or illnesses that will never go away in this life. It doesn’t always get better. Many of you live with debilitating pain day after day. You alternate days of surrender, serenity, and joy with days of discouragement. Darkness is only an absence of light, but it can feel very, very real.
Advent is a time of Hope amidst the darkness. As the warmth and light of the sun flee us, we still dare to Hope. In a time of sickness and powerlessness, we endure in Hope.
Advent is a time of “already but not yet.” The Kingdom of God has indeed broken into this world, in the person of Jesus Christ. He promises to come again with the fullness of justice – and he will. Meanwhile, we watch and wait. And wait. And wait.
If our hearts are anything like the hearts of the prophets (or like the souls of the just in the Book of Revelation), we eventually cry out in agony, HOW LONG??
What joy to be like Simeon or Anna in the temple, keeping prayerful watch for decades and finally, at long last, beholding the object of their desire, embracing and delighting in the newborn Jesus. Simeon was totally ready to die amidst his overflowing satisfaction and joy.
Luke narrates that exhilarating moment of fulfillment. He only hints at the many moments of heartache that preceded. I wonder – how often, through all those decades of waiting, did Simeon or Anna feel HopeSick?
We know that Jeremiah and Job felt HopeSick, as did Abraham and Moses. They often cried out to God in exasperation, feeling as though they couldn’t possibly go on. God met them in their longing, and they went on.
Hope can be precarious because it so often includes a felt powerlessness and even moments of darkness. For many of us, there have been many such moments – even from a young age. The prince of darkness loves to draw near in those moments, whispering his lies about who we are, who others are, and who God is. See, this is what always happens… Nothing will ever change… What’s the point?… You can’t count on others; just take care of yourself…
Those of us who have known intense moments of trauma experienced an intense powerless in those moments. Whether the “moment” was 15 minutes or 15 years, it didn’t matter. We lost our sense of time.
And our bodies remember. Present-day moments of timeless trauma, of feeling stuck in HopeSickness, can bring back old feelings and old lies – and with them old behaviors! And then we can really feel stuck. Or we can begin shaming ourselves or feeling shamed by the well-intended advice of others.
Jesus did not shame the blind, the deaf, or the mute. Nor did he shame those who were sick in their sins. He bore our infirmities and connected with us amidst our anguish.
Most of the advice given to the HopeSick, even when it is totally true, is a way of spiritually bypassing the agony of Hope. But to lose our longing is to settle for less than God is promising! The prophets are those who refuse to let go of their longing – even when they feel sick or stuck.
It is, however, vitally important to stay connected with Jesus as we abide in Hope. It may be necessary to call on Jesus and tell the evil spirits where they can go. We can renounce their lies and proclaim our trust in the promises of Jesus. AND we can cry out to God, asking him “How Long?”. He always answers, though often not in the ways we imagine or expect. Sometimes silence is the best answer. It doesn’t mean he’s ignoring us. When we are in the throes of an illness, we need presence more than words. We need to not be abandoned.
Advent is a season of presence. Advent is a season of renewed Hope.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
This post was originally published on AbideinLove.com and is reprinted here with permission.