By Hunter Greene
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. – Romans 8:22-25
A mother carries her child for nine months without the slightest idea of the child’s eye color, personality, or future. Yet even without the knowledge of who she will see and hold post-delivery, she holds the child in her womb close to her heart, dreaming of the love and memories they will one day share. She waits in the tension between what it is, an unborn baby she has yet to meet, and what will be, a growing child she will nurse, feed, and nurture into adulthood.
Hope, too, is a future we hold but do not yet see. We carry it in our imaginations, that place deep in our hearts pregnant with the possibilities of what could be. While we are unable to see that coming world healed by love, we still hold its promise, the promise of new creation, in our hearts, trusting that God will have the final word.
However, such trust in a broken world marked by groaning and pain is often difficult to sustain. When hopelessness is the reality that many of us and our neighbors experience from day to day, the beauty of hope can easily become nothing more than a mere fairy tale to our tired souls. In the midst of our pain, we long for healing and rest, but it is also our pain that keeps our eyes set on what we see, rather than the reality we cannot yet see.
Pain, even if it is the labor pains of new creation, has a way of robbing our imaginations of all hope, and when our hearts are deprived of hope, we find ourselves lost on a journey without beauty and love to direct our paths.
During this Advent season, perhaps you have lost your hope in the midst of great pain and darkness. Perhaps you’ve wandered into a wilderness and there seems to be no escape in sight. Maybe you’ve exhausted all your resources and options. Maybe you are tired of waiting for relief and rescue. If you find yourself here in this desolate place, what good is hope when your heart has accepted suffering as your new normal and your mind has given up on the possibility that your world can be different?
While I won’t claim to have the answers to alleviate your suffering, I’d like to suggest that crying out in your wilderness, in your place of waiting, can be an oasis in a hopeless desert.
It’s not always our circumstances that ultimately defeat us. Rather, it is our unwillingness to continue fighting for healing, renewal, and restoration. In other words, it is our acceptance of what we currently see and feel that keeps us from working for that future which is more beautiful and lovely than our present. Such an acceptance of what is broken is our sign that the time has come to cry out to God for the strength to imagine that even a small path toward liberation can be forged in our wilderness.
I think this is the idea behind the Advent cry of Isaiah 40:3-5, which reads, “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’”
Though we do not see hope with our eyes, we are people who cry out with hope, proclaiming to the world that God will heal what has been broken by sin and oppression. We are a people that cannot accept the world as we know it, for we carry in our hearts the promise that God will lower mountains and lift valleys. We are a people that wait for the coming of our Lord, the hope and salvation of the world, because he is the embodied revelation of the world which God has promised. We do not wait passively, nor do we wait in silence.
Advent is our reminder that we wait patiently but actively, with hopeful cries that beckon the world to come and see the glory of God being born in our midst.
Hunter Greene is a CBF Leadership Scholar and an intern with Durham CAN, a broad-based community organizing nonprofit. He is originally from Elizabethton, Tenn., and is currently pursuing his Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.