As we move through the season of Advent, a time of anticipating and hoping for the promise of the Messiah while fully recognizing the reality of our broken world, we are continuing with our second annual Advent series—a collection of reflections here on the Intersections blog and content delivered exclusively through emails every Sunday. If you’re not receiving the email series yet, it’s not too late to sign up for the final two weeks and the Christmas Eve edition. Here, Matthias Roberts, a second-year MA in Theology & Culture and MA in Counseling Psychology student, writes about the resilient hope that nags at him despite frustration and disappointment.
Last week, I was laying on my couch looking at God. At least, I was looking into the air where I assumed God was sitting, skeptically asking aloud, “What help have you been these past few days?”
My prayers, my journaling, my yelling in the bathtub with a glass (or four) of wine, had gone unanswered and I wasn’t very happy about it. My tears had turned into contempt and I wanted an answer.
It didn’t take long for other voices to come rushing in, a damage control team, “Whoa whoa whoa, wait a second, you’re talking to the creator of the universe there, mister! Let’s be a little more respectful.”
I shot a few choice words back at them with an even dirtier look than the one I was shooting at God. Then I turned to watch the smoke rise from the stick of incense I lit a few minutes earlier, pouting.
Hope is not something I’m particularly into these past weeks. It feels dangerous and yucky. After a summer of leaning into hope and an autumn of having those hopes plucked off one by one, I want nothing to do with it. I’d rather stay wrapped in a blanket on my couch sighing loudly while listening to Adele and watching the rain fall.
However, hope doesn’t want to leave. Despite my best attempts to scare it away, I’m left wondering if maybe I should stop taking Vitamin D because it’s making me too cheery. Why will it not leave me alone? What is it about hope that makes it sticky? I’ll be lost in my clouds and all of a sudden a little burst of wind will whisper “What if?”
What is it about hope that makes it sticky?
Last year around Advent, I wrote about how the mourning of Holy Saturday felt more appropriate than the hope Advent brings. The world feels like it has been ripped apart even more since then. More shootings, more terrorist attacks, more deaths: heartache surrounds us with an impenetrable thickness. To jump to hope feels glib, as if we are whitewashing the pain. I don’t want to hope. Thus, I’m even more hesitant to be entering into a season almost solely based upon hope and anticipation. It doesn’t match my mood. That’s annoying.
This season is the little voice whispering “What if?” to me while I’m cursing on my couch. I may try to sleep through it, but it’ll still be Advent nonetheless. With silent persistence, the days will continue inviting us to come see the Good we’ve all been waiting for. We are swept up into it whether we like it or not.
With silent persistence, the days will continue inviting us to come see the Good we’ve been waiting for.
I was walking around downtown Seattle when I spotted the first Christmas lights of the season. They were wrapped around the trees of 4th, softly glimmering off the streets. My breath left my mouth as the mirror-like wetness of Seattle magnified the magic. That small voice whispered, “What if?”
What if, even on these cloudy, rain-filled days, there’s still light?
There’s a part of me wishing I would see the Christmas lights as a vain attempt to decorate mostly-dead trees and focus instead on my perpetually wet socks. The world is awful and nothing good seems to be coming out of it. Why even bother?
Why even bother talking to that guy? Or contemplating that relationship? Or working on that book? Or writing that blog post? Why bother hoping for peace and a church that welcomes the least of these? What is the point if it’s all going to turn out horribly anyway?
These are the questions I’m directing at God as I stare at the bit of space where I’m pretty sure he’s sitting, smiling coyly, waiting patiently for me to tire of my outburst. When I’m sufficiently worn out, he gets up, pulls my blanket around my shoulders, puts in a fresh stick of incense, and whispers, “But, my dear child, what if?”
I like to imagine the magi, the astrologers, who spent their time looking up at the glimmering lights in the sky. The ones who noticed the bright new star and decided to follow it, not knowing what they would find. A daunting journey all based on the question “What if?” and the hope something Good was waiting for them. I’m sure the little light in the sky was covered at times by clouds and rain and wind and sand and despair. Yet, the little voice remained, whispering softly, annoyingly. “What if?”
That voice remains today too, in the wind, and in this season.
What if the Good we are hoping for is almost here?