The Weight of Hope

I wrote this in 2003; hence, the reference to nine months of war. It was originally published in the Theolog, the student journal of Claremont School of Theology, which I co-edited for two years.

The hope of advent is utterly different than the hope of Good Friday. On that most despairing of days in the Christian year, we mourn for a crucified man, murdered cruelly by capital punishment administered by the state. There is no reason to allow hope to well up as we wait by the tomb. And yet we wait—we wait until there is indeed a sign that something extraordinary has happened: a tomb has been emptied of death, just as the body was emptied of life. Hoping for resurrection is the hardest of hopes to maintain, even for two sleepless nights. Easter Sunday comes quickly, as if God couldn’t keep the secret that God had outdone the Roman Empire. Good Friday hope is rather like taking an adhesive bandage off quickly—it hurts like hell, but not for unbearably long.

Advent hope is slower, heavier somehow. The stakes are not so high—we don’t yet have an entombed savior—but hope can still be elusive. In advent we are struck by doubt that much of anything will happen. We laugh uncomfortably at wild John, who dunks his followers into rivers and calls them forgiven. We’re not sure we want to get our hair wet, not yet.

And then there’s Mary, pregnant with an illegitimate child. Who ever believes the young pregnant girl? If we really paid attention to Mary, we’d know advent isn’t four measly Sundays, but nine months of morning sickness and swollen ankles and quiet joy. Nine months of cultivating hope in the life growing within. But that’s Mary. We have spent the last nine months watching a war enfold in Iraq, a war that we prayed wouldn’t happen.

In advent we are to practice carrying hope, and we are to carry this hope as if it were an unborn child nearing its final trimester in the womb. We are to feel this hope lean heavily on our hips and kick restlessly inside of us. We need this practice, even though we know that the Christ-child has already been birthed into the world through Mary’s frail and tired body. We need this practice because we too are called to give birth. Three days during the last trimester of lent isn’t sufficient; the hope we must sustain requires a slow and heavy gestation. We are called to give birth to the Kingdom of God, the Basileia for which Jesus came to plant seeds. This Kingdom is within us and beyond us; already and not yet. We carry this hope amidst a world that gives us little reason to hope. We are heavy with Basileia even as we watch war unfold. We are heavy with Basileia even as we are struck by doubt. We are heavy with Basileia because at some point we said yes, just as Mary did. So we will practice with her again, waiting and hoping with quiet joy for the life within to emerge.

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