It is a strange thing to be expecting a child at Christmas. We are expecting a daughter some time mid-January, but she could come any day now. The nursery is ready, the crib is assembled, the returns have been made and the furniture has been put together. It is even stranger to be part of a clergy couple expecting a child at Christmas. My spouse and I are on staff together, a situation which makes the whole thing even more interesting (and fun). As the church has waited, so have we. And though we have successfully avoided being the ones to light the Advent wreath until now, I think we are up soon.
We have certainly experienced an expectant Advent.
But the strangest thing, for me and for this particular season, is to be expecting a child in the midst of the hopelessness we all felt a week ago Friday, upon learning the news that twenty-eight people were dead as a result of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. Twenty of them were children.
I don't know if I am feeling this way because we are expecting a child, but this particular tragedy has knocked me off my feet. I just can't get my wits about me. How has it been for you? I just can't seem to get past it, this event which is--and I am serious about this--the worst thing I can possibly imagine.
The absolute worst thing.
I hope you do not expect me to make sense of this. There is no sense to be made. We call these things "senseless" for a reason.
But I do want to say a word about how we go forward, and perhaps much of my motivation is just to convince myself to keep going. It is enough to make you want to go to bed and never get up again. It is certainly enough to make you think twice about bringing a child into this difficult world.
The more I have thought about it, though, the more I think that having a child is the ultimate act of defiant hope. There is no stronger tool in the toolbox of faith than hope, and no tool more active. We look at the world as it is, see the pain and heartache, and we recognize that it is difficult business, this business of being alive. And yet we initiate someone new into that difficult business anyway, for though life is difficult, it is rich, and bubbling with possibility.
We do not venture towards hope with the naive assumption that difficiult business will go away. We hope with the active belief that with work, with sweat and tears and blood, the work will get easier, such that rather than simply drafting someone new into an unwinnable conflict, we work to lessen that conflict with the expectation that that new person will take up where we leave off.
The work of the Christian is much larger than one person, much grander than one time. The hope of the Christian life as it is expressed in baptism is that it is indeed New Life--not just for one, but for all of us--as well seek to justice to what we've seen, as we seek to leave the world better off than we found it, as we seek to discern the fine line between what is and what could be.
In dark moments, I am prone despair. But I remember that we are a people called to hope--hope ultimately expressed in the person of Christ--and I quit looking at my shoes and discover God's great work going on all around me. This is the thing onto which I hold in this expectant season, and it is enough for me.
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