A man runs down the street. He feels the crush of runners around him, the sound of their feet hitting the pavement, the smell of sweat and fall leaves. He cannot see; his blindness wraps him in a black curtain. For thirteen miles he runs, his feet rhythmically hitting the ground like a metronome thumping the beat of his journey—a marathon song.
But he does not run alone.
His right arm wraps through the arm of another runner beside him. This man acts as his eyes. He guides him through the race, all thirteen miles, around every corner, all the way to the end. Not once does the blind man question whether it’s the right way. Not once does he let go. He just keeps running, knowing that if he hangs on he will make it to the finish.
After the runners have passed and I walk slowly home, I wonder what it must be like to run in the dark, hanging on to someone else. Is the race worth it?
Is it worth all the pain?
This marathon is our life and nobody knows where we’re going, especially when the way gets hard. When my own life presses down and I cannot see the end, I grasp on to the one thing that is truth:
He is my hope.
We’re hanging on to him, and no matter how confusing or dark or hard this journey is, we trust this.
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)
Hope is what Mary and Joseph cling to when they take the long road to Bethlehem expecting a place to stay and a bed to rest their aching backs. It turns out that place was a stable, their bed made of straw, but it was the place God planned: A crude room where a star shines down its hope so the shepherds, and later the wise men, could find their way to the Messiah.
Hope doesn’t always come in the package we expect, but it always comes in the waiting.
In Psalm 42:5, the Psalmist asks,
Why are you cast down, O my soul
And why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God for I shall again praise him,
My Savior and my God.
The word hope in this Psalm is the word “yachal” and means to wait on God. It describes a dependency on Him, trusting what He says is true even when our feelings says otherwise and life is messy. It’s a reminder that God makes good on his promises. When we feel abandoned and alone, despair is not the end of our story. We hope in God’s promise to redeem this world and all the brokenness in it.
Hope is waiting on God, not trusting the voices in our head, but what we know is true.
Hope can be fierce when it’s all you got. When the woman fighting cancer knows she’s going to finish this race well—live or die—that’s fierce hope. When a man buries his wife under a grey tombstone that says it’s over, but still tells his kids,
We’re going to see mommy again. Someday.
That’s fierce hope.
When the odds are stacked against you, when it looks like the only outcome is losing, but you are hanging on to the still small voice, something powerful happens.
That kind of waiting will change your life. It will turn your world upside down and shake out the pockets of all those things you stuffed deep that you used to depend on, like your ambition and worldly success.
When you have hope in the worst of times, it’s saying, “Take that, world.”
Because this world isn’t a very hopeful place, not when you’ve seen another murder on the news, a child hooked up to an IV full of chemo, or your spouse walk out on you. We might even wonder if all hope is lost. That’s when Job’s words hit hard. In the midst of his worst pain he declares,
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him. (Job 13:15)
Because the hopeful people—they shine bright. They become the light of Christ in this dark world. They show us the temporary pain of life is a vapor, but the stuff that matters, our hope in dark times, this is what we cling to.
If Advent is about God breaking into our lives, then where are we setting up barriers so God cannot break through? What keeps us from hoping in a God who does the unexpected? What could be more unexpected than the Messiah born in a stable, sleeping in an animal’s feed trough?
A few months before our son died we met a couple who buried a child the year before, a baby girl who never breathed that first breath or opened her tiny eyes. When their baby’s birthday rolled around, they found a child from a needy family and gave them a real birthday party, full of gifts and surprises. They decided to redeem that sad day and turn it into a day to celebrate the life of a child not their own. This birthday party was a salve for their wound. A day of despair redeemed by hope, as they waited on the day when they will see their daughter again, alive and whole, to celebrate her birthday in heaven.
In their waiting they hang on to hope and they allow God to break into their lives and shine hope in a dark world. Their lives answer the question Robert Weber asks,
Do our ambitions and dreams tie into the aspirations of worldly success so that God cannot break through to us and use us to touch others with Christ’s love and hope?
That fierce Advent hope shows the world God came to earth as a baby to make all things right—eventually. Until then, we wait for him in the darkness singing Advent carols and hanging on to a small candle shining bright.
We don’t know how long the race is, but we aren’t giving up.
We wait. Our hands grasping fierce hope.