Yesterday we lit the candle of hope in our advent wreath. I also like to call it the candle of longing, because so often hope begins with longing. The longing for God to be more than some far off impersonal entity, the longing for God to walk once again with humanity in the cool of the day on this great garden of earth, became the hope of Emmanuel and was realized in a savior who cried tears of blood for us in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our advent hymnal is peppered with these songs of deep longing and hope. Our mournful cries of “O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” mingle with the triumphant strains of “Joy to the World”
I must admit that I like the mournful and longing Christmas songs the best, because so often they reflect my own walk of faith. My prayers are often these plaintive cries of “God, please take care of this! Come to Ferguson and bring reconciliation and justice and peace. Come to Syria and Iraq and Bethlehem. Heal the fractures of generations of hatred and war. Come to Sierra Leon and Liberia. Release them from the devastating disease of Ebola. Come and salve grief, unravel the mysteries of mental illness, and fill us with your grace and compassion. Come thou long expected Jesus. Let us find our rest in thee.”
Please understand that I am not asking for God to come in some apocalyptic blaze of glory, but rather for the God who is already there to reveal himself within and through these situations. Perhaps this Christmas, the little town of Bethlehem about which we sing will finally wake from its deep and dreamless sleep to recognize the God who is already there. I find these same longings within the Advent texts. Isaiah cries out, “Comfort, comfort my people… Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed that her sin has been paid for.” (Isaiah 40:1-2b NIV) For the first 39 chapters of his prophecy, Isaiah has offered little more than pain and heartache, but here at last he offers hope and more than just some sort of dim feeling. Isaiah’s hope is pregnant with anticipation. He urges us to do more than bow our heads and assure ourselves that God might one day show up. “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3 (NIV).
Our hope is an active hope. Its hope predicated in faith, a full hope, a complete hope. In the New Testament, Peter commands us to have this sort of hope which he also calls a “living hope.” (1Peter 1:3, 11) There’s a difference between wishful thinking that stands at a distance and wonders if the world will change or if God really cares and an active, invested hope with calloused knees and rolled up sleeves. God’s people are charged with the later.
We must invest in our time of longing by doing our best to reveal the presence of God who is already there and yet hidden by the twists of sin. “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 40:5 (NIV) Yesterday, I lit the candle of hope and promised that this year I would lay aside despair as I sought once again to find God in those unlikely places where he is ought to show up: away in a manger, a tiny baby at the breast of a virgin, on the other side of the world, across town, or next door.