Advent Hope: Dawn’s Pale Light
This is the child’s pose as Christmas whirls through the air: Nose pressed to glass. Scanning the sky—days and days before the 24th of December, before the night flight of wonder. Searching for Santa, for sleigh, the ink-stained silhouette of jolly fellow and lash of eight reindeer etched certain against glowing screen of winter’s moon. The child believes. The child wishes.
Is wishing not the birthplace of hope? Do we not learn to hope in learning to wish? We wish upon a star. We hope beyond hope.
Hope, then, is the full-bloomed posture of these days that darken, unspooling toward Christmas, when light bursts through the night. When brilliant star, hung on the black cloth of midnight, lifts our eyes and our hearts. We are infused, like the little child, with wonder, with hope. We believe in the possible, in the gift under wrappings, the one we don’t yet know. Except for hope, the darkness might blind, might eclipse our hearts.
Picture the original Christmas tableau: There is a manger, a straw-strewn, rough-timbered trough, one where the beasts fill their bellies. Only this night, in this manger, there is a newborn babe laid down with limbs flailing. Cows bellow. Sheep bleat. The baby, the Christ child, mews too. And this night the sky burns with brilliance. The star points to Wonder Child, but not everyone knows. Shepherds and wise men follow the light. They drop to their knees. In hard rocky fields. In the straw of the barn. That star in the night signals, “Come, follow the light.” It points the way. Sheepherders off in the distance could only hope. This heavenly light means something. Its intensity must be a signal. But who knows? Knowing comes long after hoping, through walking toward the light. Knowing with every step that it might or it might not be.
And there is the majesty, the allure, of hope. Hope is shot through with maybe—maybe yes, maybe no—with not knowing. With wanting.
Faith is a rock, is certain—or mostly so. Hope, the more child-like of the two, allows the mystery of uncertainty. There is some degree of shadow; the star in the night sky that flickers is there and then is not. Hope is the thing that soars into the unknown, into the beyond.
Here’s where it hurls past the child’s pure wishing: It’s imbued with more backbone. Holy spine, one planted firmly, deeply, in knowing that with God all is possible but not inevitable. Therein lies the reason we pray.
Maybe what grownups do is we hope. We take that childlike spark of wishing, and we carve it into hope. We know, on bended knee, that what we hope for might not come to be. That possibility of not-ness is what distinguishes hope from faith.
Faith knows. Hope longs.
To make hope come alive we need to put muscle to it—our heart’s muscle, our living breathing acts of goodness and kindness, of speaking up against hate, against injustice. Of shouldering whatever it takes to keep evil at bay. To drown out the cacophony of the modern-day cabal with whispers of love, of open-mindedness, of tender in a world that seems hell-bent on brusque.
Hope is an exercise. Hope unfolds and unfurls. Hope is essential. It’s the single implement in the spiritual armament that acknowledges unfolding mystery, that invites journeying toward illumination in the distance. We might get there. We might find what we’re looking for, what we need.
And maybe that’s why hope is invited into Advent. Especially now, especially now in our over-plugged, overstuffed day after day. We are all spinning through darkness. Through the underside of the season of too, too much. We crave quiet. And holy. And dawn’s pale light. We are in need of something wholly other than that which we find in crowded malls, endless anesthetizing commercials, and squawking songs of Santa with elves.
We need hope. Hope is the thing that comes in depth of winter’s darkness. We can envision a more beautiful world, a more beautiful self. We hope, we pray. We bow to the possibility, and then we are called to exercise toward that possible. That is to hope.
And this is hope’s prayer:
Dear God of Shadow and Light, God of Possible and Impossible. Birth in me hope. Birth in me the first faint breaths of what might be. Illuminate for me this darkness all around. Give me light to reach toward, to ache toward. Give me strength to believe, to believe in the Beautiful, the Quiet, the Holy. Allow me the heart’s strength to hold on, to hope. And if it be Your Holy Will, anoint me with the blessing of Hope Unwrapped, the moment of knowing when all prayer, all possible, is cupped tenderly in the palm of our hands, of our heart. And if the possible is not to be, then steady me in the void, and fill me with whatever it is that might quench this holy thirsting vessel.
“ … we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:4-5).
Every now and then (or perhaps more often than that), it might be hard to find hope in this world. Even in the midst of celebrating the birth of Christ, we may struggle to see the silver lining. At the height of all the revelry, it may be difficult to find a solid foothold or a ledge to hang onto. And so, Jesus joins us in the center of it all, acknowledging the dark and dreary and not requiring us to “buck up” or “get a grip.” Instead, he lies in a manger, a star over his head, and silently invites us to look up. Christ is at work in the world, despite evidence to the contrary. In this series, Advent Hope, join us as together, we take a deep breath and dare to look up.