Advent Pain, Aching Hope

Maybe it is somehow natural that we want radical new beginnings.
Maybe there is something about the human condition that wants newness in our lives,
and we want it now.

But then again, maybe such impatience is also a feature of a culture that needs
the excitement of the ‘new’ in order to keep the market growing.

To live in “modern times” is to be incurably impatient,
we are not a people who like to wait.

Heck, even the way in which Christian conversion is presented
seems to be all about arrival,
all about a radical, total and final break with a past way of life
and the embrace of a new identity in Christ as a done deal.

“Come to Jesus and be a new person!
Come to Jesus and all of your problems will go away,
all of your infirmities healed,
all of the troubles solved.”

I know, I know, few of us really believe that anymore,
and yet, we do seem to be frustrated that life in Christ
still seems to carry so many of the burdens of the past,
and maybe even a few more.

This was certainly my experience after coming to Christian discipleship
after reading the gospel of John.

It wasn’t that I thought that Jesus was going to solve all my problems
– I mean, I didn’t think that my conversion
was going to sober up my alcoholic father,
or immediately deal with my anxieties and sadness –
but this was the story that I was getting from the church around me.

Now that I was in Christ, I was told,
everything was going to be so much better,
everything was going to be so much happier,
everything was going to be so radically new.

Don’t get me wrong, that decision to follow Jesus
remains the most radical and momentous event in my life!

And yes, it was (and I hope remains) profoundly radical.

But my father died a drunk,
I was never reconciled with him,
and I constantly felt like a misfit in the church
because, well, as far as I could see,
there wasn’t much to justify
the kind of cheap pious Jesus happiness
that we sang about in the Christian choruses of the day.

It seemed as if maybe I hadn’t quite arrived yet.
Maybe this Jesus thing hadn’t quite taken its full effect in my life.

But somehow I didn’t believe that.
Somehow I had a hunch that this
“Jesus-is-going-to-fix-everything-right-away” piety was bullshit.

And here’s the thing,
there was nothing in the gospel of John
– the gospel that led me to Jesus –
that seemed to promise any such immediate
and final resolution of all of my problems.

Indeed, it seemed to me that if I was going to follow Jesus,
then the story was likely going to get more difficult,
more dangerous,
more conflicted,
more fraught,
maybe even more violent,
as things unfolded.

That’s how it played out for Jesus,|
why wouldn’t it play out that way for me.?

So a happy piety of arrival had no appeal to me.
It didn’t fit the Jesus I met in John.
It didn’t fit the realities of my life.
It didn’t seem to fit the reality of any life whatsoever.

And it wasn’t for a long time before I came to realize
that deep in the spiritual brilliance of the Christian calendar
there is a profound sense of a piety of waiting.

It is right there at the beginning of the Christian year.

For Christians the new year doesn’t begin on January 1,
rather, the new year begins on the first Sunday of Advent.

The Christian year ends with the Sunday in which we proclaim Christ the King
– almost as a statement of faith against the evidence of the year now gone by –
and begins with a posture of longing and waiting;
a longing and waiting for the Christ just proclaimed King
to become King anew in the midst
of our broken, conflicted and compromised lives.

And for that we wait.

Advent is about a piety of patience,
a piety of longing,
a piety of tears,
a piety of waiting.

But this patience,
this longing,
these tears,
this waiting,
is, indeed, a piety.

This is a spirituality that is born of living in this story.

This is an open-eyed faith that refuses to cover up the pain,
the disappointment,
the struggles,
the hurt.

To experience life in such a way is not impiety,
it is a very deep, and faithful piety.

But this is not the patience of acquiescence,
no, this is a patience driven by longing,
maybe we could even call this a righteous impatience
because we know that the Kingdom is not yet,
we know that the healing isn’t done
we know that the tears are still flowing.

There is no patience without hope,
an aching hope.

Advent is not about arrival.
Advent is about waiting in hope.
Advent is about prayer for the coming Kingdom.

Advent is about saying,
often with trembling lip,
wavering voice,
and with tear-filled eyes,
Come soon, Lord Jesus, come soon.



Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

3 Responses to “Advent Pain, Aching Hope”

  1. There is Nothing Ordinary About This | Rumblings

    […] Brian Walsh, Advent Pain, Aching Hope […]

  2. Amy Colgan Eytchison

    Thank you. Shared this with friends. Our pastor referenced it in his sermon last Sunday, so I came looking for it.


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