When Hope Is More Than You Can Bear

It’s Advent- my very favorite season. This year, we’re looking for Magic in the Mundane as we celebrate He Who Came, Stayed, and Will Come Again. This week is traditionally the “Hope” week and we’re looking at the narrative of Joseph, the husband of Mary. 

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What would you have done?

Her eyes are downcast throughout dinner and she barely touches her food. You guess that maybe it’s just nerves, try to make light conversation. She fiddles with her hands before barely whispering, “I’m pregnant.”

You ask how… you ask who. Your mind so fills with rage that your eyes actually feel hot. You try to listen, try to be rational. Why are you so angry? You’re humiliated, you recognize. You’re disappointed, and you’re hurting because this means you’ve lost the one you love.

 

And you do love her, even in this. You’re not wrathful or vengeful. You resolve to divorce her quietly, to save her life and her future. She appears to have deliberately hurt you and broken her vows to you and yet you love her enough to absolve her of the penalty, quietly.

 

That’s not what I would do.

I’m the flying-off-the-handle kind of angry. I used to scream and cry as a child when my brothers wouldn’t listen to me. Sometimes I still scream and cry as an adult when people hurt me or those I love.

I want the full penalty paid when someone hurts me. I want the full penalty paid when someone hurts my friends- and either way, I want to be the one that inflicts some of the damage.

 

Joseph’s response to Mary’s little announcement shows selflessness, self-control, love. Mine shows Justice (perhaps), revenge, anger.

But neither of us shows hope.

 

Of course the story doesn’t end how Joseph expected. A dream and an angel and a long trek to Bethlehem later and the whole world would never be the same from this painful moment. Mary undoubtedly tried to explain the situation to him, but why should he believe her? God had never done this before.

Sometimes Hope is more than you can bear. Joseph wouldn’t have wanted to hear that he needed to Hope that God would redeem this situation, but that was what God was doing, what God had been doing all along.

God had, in fact, set up the situation Himself.

When crap happens, Christians are in the habit of saying that God must have a plan, or that God could use or ordain anything for His own Good and Glory.

This is never, ever, what people deep in the crap want or need to hear.

Even when it’s true.

 

People deep in the crap need what Joseph got: divine intervention. I’m not being sarcastic. The only thing that could possibly have convinced Joseph that this pregnancy was good and God-given and Hopeful was an angel, or perhaps God himself showing up at the end of the pregnancy. He got both.

I’ve never been visited by an angel, and I’m pretty firm in my belief that God has incarnated just the one time.

But I think if we’re going to call people to radical Hope, as we are apt to do at Advent time, we have to believe that God is still intervening in the world. We have to look for his interventions.

 

This, I think, can be prayed for and pointed out by the friends-of-those-in-the-crap. Not in an abstract, “there are good things in the world” way, but in a concrete, “Do you see God here in this moment working like this?” way.

Paul famously equated hope with “things not yet seen” when defining faith in Hebrews, but I don’t think that hope can be something that you don’t see, at least, not entirely. As rational beings with a memory and a capacity to plan, I think hope comes from what we have seen, what we know to be true, and where we believe ourselves and the universe to be going.

 

So this advent, let’s look for magic. Let’s look for signs that what we hope for is coming and that we have reason to have Faith in the one who has promised it.

And if hope is more than you can bear this season, I hope someone is pointing out the magic to you, too, and praying the Hope back into your life. I will be.

 

Because really, we celebrate advent because we’re hoping with Joseph against all odds that God will do something He’s never done before: Come back soon.

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