Advent Week 1: Next Year Will Be Different – Hope

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My parents kept a basket of my old baby clothes in the attic. Most are handmade, smocked by my grandmother. Others are delicate and cost my family a fortune.

My parents had a garage sale recently and to my surprise, these little pieces were in the pile to be sold. Mom kept them stored away, saving them for grandchildren, my children, children I don’t have. And because too much time and fertility had passed, she was selling them along with the hope she would see me with a family.

The week after Christmas has traditionally been a tough week for me. When the decorations come down and the parties stop, the quiet days after usher in a whole host of emotions and realities that I wish I could sweep away with cookie crumbs and opened wrapping paper.

Every post-Christmas week in my 20’s I had this thought, “Next year will be different.”

Next year, I will be dating.

Next year, I will be engaged.
Next year, my parents will be buying gifts for me and a fiance.
Next year, I will be married.
Next year, I will be pregnant.
Next year, I will have a child.

Next year, the same holiday rituals will be wonderfully interrupted by a diamond or bassinet. And yet, as the years have passed hope is harder to drum up. The past few Christmases I have not given thought to next year, my soul a little too weary from years of praying but never seeing. At some point, I went numb. My version of throwing the baby clothes in the sale pile.

***
There is a spot in every printed Bible between the Old and New Testaments. Malachi ends and before Matthew begins, there are a few blank pages and 400 years.

The Lord was silent. The prophets perceived nothing, spoke nothing. Whole generations died without hearing from the Lord.

Next year, the Messiah will come.

It was an absurd faith passed down through tales of prophets and promises. Hope of the Messiah endured through generations and somehow found it’s way to Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, and Zechariah – the unlikely, ordinary people on whom the Lord chose to break his silence.

Zechariah was serving in the temple.

Joseph believed God showed up in the middle of his crazy stress dreams.
Elizabeth’s own baby knew the Messiah was growing inside of Mary.

Despite years of believing and never seeing, they were found faithful.

Waiting through silence in hope is the grown-up version of school. We spend years learning about faith, learning to believe what we cannot see. We read books, scripture, listen to messages. When we enter the real world of waiting – hoping to marry, to move, for unemployment to end, to have a baby – we cash in every ounce of what we think we know and trust fulfillment is coming.

Faith is waiting for the silence to break.

The first Sunday in Advent is designated as “Hope.” I’ve lost hope a thousand times. I’ve given up, stopped praying, wondered if I heard wrong, believed wrong, am wrong. And yet…when what is promised is fulfilled, despite all I can see and all I can’t, I want to be found faithful.

My hope is in the Messiah that will come, in his way and time, not in what he gives or chooses to withhold. Like all the characters in the nativity narrative, I would rather die in absurd faith, believing the Lord for a whole host of things rather than giving up on the promised fulfilled. I will err on the side of belief. The one who promised is faithful.

Fueled by a strange mix of hope and stubbornness, I took the basket of baby clothes to keep for my daughter. I confessed this to a group of friends one night over a cheese plate and wine. I tempered the story with thoughts of maybe giving the clothes to some friends I know who have little girls. Mandy, who had struggled with infertility and was a beacon of what it was like to not give up, looked me square in the eyes and with a passion reserved for people who know what it is like to wait in hope said, “Don’t you dare give those clothes away.”

I haven’t. They are still in my attic.

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