A Gathering Voices Post by Lara Blackwood Pickrel
It’s such a heavy word, stretched taut with possibility - especially during this season of the Church’s life that is set aside for watching, waiting, preparing for new life. We celebrate our expectant hope by lighting candles or peering behind little doors towards the bits of chocolate that mark off days. It is a season marked by beauty and joy.
But is expectation always a beautiful thing? Is hope always joyful? Is it fair to expect that everyone see Advent as “the most wonderful time of the year”?
I don’t think so.
This Advent hope of ours is one grounded, rooted in the pain of the world. Mary and her people yearned (and some still yearn) for the birth of a messiah not because it would be a lovely thing to have one around. They yearned for a savior, an advocate, a liberator because injustice and despair were a part of their very real and tangible reality. They cried out for God’s intervention in the world out of their suffering - and their hope was not always joyful. This was a costly hope, an unsettling anticipation - and one that might not come to fruition in their lifetime.
It was the hope of two women who should not be pregnant - one unable to conceive and one unwed. It was the hope of shepherds bound to their flocks, who should not leave their fields and livelihood for any reason lest their families perish. It was the hope of a people whose lives were dictated by the whims of their occupiers, who journeyed far and wide simply to be counted for the sake of the tax pool. It was the yearning of those who could not afford to hope - those for whom joy and celebration come after the good news arrives, not before.
When we strip away the twinkling lights, commercial gloss and catchy songs - when we peel off the layers of spray snow and greeting card gusto, what remains? We are left with a season that belongs to those who can hardly bear to hope.
Are you chronically or terminally ill? - Advent belongs to you.
Are you mourning the death of a loved one or a lost job? - Advent is your season.
Are you struggling with infertility? Grieving a miscarriage? - This is your time.
Have you been pushed aside, held back or stomped down? - There is room for you here.
And what of the rest of us? It’s pretty simple, really: If you are already joyful, keep being joyful. If your life is already filled with hope, trust in that hope. If your soul overflows with praise, raise your hands to the heavens and sing carols to God. But at the same time, make a little room for those who aren’t joyful, hopeful, praiseful. Give them space for their grief without guilt or shame.
This Advent, as we watch and prepare for the arrival of the Christ child, let us consider the addition of a sort of supplemental Beatitude:
Blessed are they who must journey towards hope, for this is their season.