I recently looked up the definition of “expect.” It means, according to the dictionary, “To look forward to.”
Thinking that this sounded familiar, I also looked up the definition of “hope.” Hope, according to the dictionary, means, “To look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence.”
I found it interesting that even in the dictionary, the meanings of expect and hope are so closely and clearly intertwined.
I think these two words – hope and expectation - words that are often wrapped in precious holiday cliché, especially at this time of year - are actually a bold declaration to the world. It proclaims loudly, and against the grain of the feel-good holiday season, that the world is not as it should be.
That mothers and fathers of black boys in America in 2014 rightfully fear for the lives of their children simply because of their skin color? The world is not as it should be.
That foreign aid workers, risking their lives to save men, women and children seeking refuge from war-torn countries, are beheaded in a desert for the world to see? The world is not as it should be.
That hundreds of girls are kidnapped from their school in the dark of night, to be threatened with the horror of slavery? The world is not as it should be.
That millions go hungry, millions are orphaned, millions die from childbirth, millions are trafficked into sex slavery, millions die from preventable disease? The world is not as it should be.
That protesters, numbered in the tens of thousands, would have to take to the streets of major cities around the country in order to declare with their signs and posters that yes, even black lives matter. The world is not as it should be.
These are the dark corners. These are the hard truths about the lives that we live here on earth. These are the places in our world, in our culture, that would declare that there is no hope. These are the places where expectations run dark, where the powers and structures of the world grip tight to the ways of oppression, pain and silence. It doesn’t take much effort to look at the big picture and see for ourselves that something isn’t right. That something is actually very, very wrong.
We look out into the sea of pain and brokenness, we hit our knees knowing deep down that one day it’ll all be made new, but we ask, “Lord, how can this be?” In our heart of hearts, it seems impossible.
But we, as believers and anticipators of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, both in his birth and in his return, we hold strong to something much more than mere expectation. Yes, we expect the arrival of Jesus. We expect the inauguration of his Kingdom. We expect that in his name, all oppression shall cease. Of course we do.
But, even more than expectation, we are a people of hope. Because we not only anticipate and expect the Impossible, we desire it, too. Hope is expectation infused with desire. We expect and desire the Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in heaven. We expect and desire peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. We expect and desire that justice would roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
Advent is a time of expectation, but it is also a time of desperate hope. Our desires and dreams for this broken world are laid bare and the path to their fulfillment is cracked wide open with the pangs of a mother’s labor and those first cries of a newborn baby in the dark of night.
It’s the birth of a baby to a teenage girl that tells us, nothing will be impossible with God. That no word from God will ever fail. The baby wrapped in simple cloth and laid in a feed trough is the fulfillment of our God-given hopes. He is the arrival, the apex of our expectations and desires.
And so we take our hope and we walk toward the baby, the light of the world and we hold that light in our hearts. Since hope is not idle, we walk that light into the darkest places of the world, because we believe that yes, light CAN shine in that kind of darkness. We have to believe it. Because if that light that sparked in Bethlehem and roared at Calvary can’t glow in the darkest of dark, then the gospel that we proclaim does not stand.
So we walk. We expect. We hope. We work and walk for justice and we work and walk for the end of oppression in our time. Our hope will not disappoint us. We cling to the words of Gabriel that declare nothing is impossible with God, and the darkness will not prevail. We remember Immanuel, God with us, the light of the world. Yes, even this world that is not as it should be. But with each step, the darkness breaks.
And so together, this Advent, let’s boldly walk with the unquenchable light.