We lit the first advent candle, the candle of Hope, in the cold, dark garage today. Right there next to the washer and dryer in the midst of dirty laundry, unpacked suitcases boxes that hold more boxes, storage items for the church plant, tools, the parked car and two curious cats desperately attempting to hide in the shoes.
We lit it there because there in the midst of the chaos, the clutter, the unfinished and unresolved and unlovely things that fill our lives, there is where Hope comes to us. There in the midst of all things we close off from the rest of the house is where we can be reminded that all will be made well. I want my kids to understand that. I want myself to remember that.
I once read that “candles are lit in homes where people are trying to pay attention” and I’ve thought about that many times since. I’m not naturally a restful person; I like to go places and see people and create systems and talk in tremendous detail about the nuanced meaning of all of it. I think better when my hands are busy and I’m energized by thinking of ways to plan trips on a dime, build community in simple ways, adapt a recipe, plan a school activity or…organize a closet (I’m clearly a thrilling person to be married to).
This season of Advent, celebrated by candlelight is one of the most meaningful spiritual practices I have because, choosing to see by candlelight, necessarily limits my vision. I’m not distracted by so much because I literally can’t see it and don’t have to fight the urge to go dust my fake plants instead of being in the word of God. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned more of my own limitations and how to wrestle myself down to sitting still. I have to intentionally put myself into places where I can’t do anything else and building rhythms, like celebrating Advent, is one way my heart is stilled and my faith is strengthened. It’s one way I’m learning to pay attention to Hope.
Hope is the foundation, the answer, the surety and the final word. The pulsing undercurrent of life that sustains everything. It comes first and last, it’s the whisper before we’re even sure someone is speaking and the final word to each question. It’s the reason we cling to the belief that all be well even though in our painfully broken world all is not well.
Jesus is our hope.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Hope was hard won. Jesus grew up from a baby in a manger to a king who gave everything and triumphed in battle. This hope has grit which is why it can give grace.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. – Hebrews 2:14
We are free. We are a hope-filled people. We know how the story will end and we can live in the endless strength of that hope even as we also wait through days of sorrow and wrestle with our own humanity.
I want to remember that well this Christmas. That in the midst of the brokenness and pain of our world I, we, would see the prophesied and precious gift of God and the foretaste of completed redemption that his birth was and is. It’s the hope of the world and the hope that we need to press on down the road of our own pilgrim journeys as we wait for our world’s third day.