Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord; Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.
I get to be one of the co-pastors for a beautiful little church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Each of our pastors embraces a bi-vocational ministry approach, meaning we hold other jobs beyond the church. This strategy empowers intentional incarnation in our community and focuses more funds on our mission.
In the early days of our church plant I worked as a substitute teacher in our local school system. Glamorous, I know. I imagined myself in a scene from Dead Poets Society, changing lives with my lectures on To Kill a Mockingbird, inspiring young minds to discover their dreams and follow their hero into the noble life of substitute teaching.
Instead, most of my instruction boiled down to me saying, “Under no circumstance is it ever appropriate to use that word to describe anyone or anything.”
So, you can understand my surprise when I heard something that grabbed my attention in a good way. Once, in a class discussion about a short story, middle school students were describing the mood created by the author. One soft-spoken, shaggy-haired kid offered this assessment: “The story is tense, scary, and dangerous all the way through. But even though you feel afraid, hope is always present.”
And there it is.
The student’s description of that short story captures the thrust of the whole story, the cry of Psalm 130, the longing realized in Advent.
Advent is a season of robust hope. It is the kind of hope that is always present, not merely an idea planted firmly in the future. Jesus takes what is future, what is far off, and drags it into the present. He buries it in us like a seed, waiting for the harvest. We may not see the flourishing right now, but it is there, taking root and stretching out in the soil of our souls. Hope is present where we need it the most—in the thick of it, where the road closes in and the end seems cut off.
When it seems as if there is no hope, we remember that is precisely the one thing we do have. We light a wreath of candles as an act of defiance against the darkness.
We proclaim the anthem of Advent, the disruptive genius of “God with us.” With us as we cry out from the depths. With us in our pain, our tragedy, our longing. With us to empower premeditated love, even in the face of fear. With us to form his people into a living protest against the way things are, and a prophetic vision of what should be and could be and one day will be.
He is with us as we wait for Advent all over again, watching and hoping for the return of our long-expected Jesus. Like a watchman waits for the morning.
Jesus, hope is always present because you are.
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH, AND MADE HIS DWELLING AMONG US.
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