What keeps the wild hope of Christmas alive
year after year
in a world notorious for dashing all hopes
is the haunting dream that the child
who was born that day may yet be born again
even in us
and our own snowbound,
snow-blind longing for him.
Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark
Wild hope is that kind of hope against all hope. It is unruly and will not stay within the bounds of only what my eyes can see. It grows brighter against the odds and thrives in the most haunted circumstances. Just ask anyone in Hebrews 11.
I love the sound of falling rain. I do. But in the winter when the days fall short and skies are grey and dreary as they have been here in the Pacific Northwest for weeks on end, the world can seem washed out, flat, and my soul paper thin. Add a seeping cold and my bones can't get warm.
Throw a log on the fire, light candles all around the house, put the kettle on for spice tea and dive under a down duvet with a good book. That's my recipe for the dark winter. That and Mike plays savory bluegrass music for me as I write. It's a good start, but as the winter drags on and freezing rain blows through my fair skin, I can lose heart that there is sunshine around the corner.
Until I tiptoe quietly with the slanting light into the hay manger where Jesus was born. At Christmas time this barn is the sanctuary of God. But I don't enter as an angel or even a wise man. No, I pull back the old barn door as the Little Drummer Boy, a ragamuffin with dirty feet against the odds of having audience with the King. I bring my small gift, my off key song. I bring these words I write to you, rocking a baby (first my own and now the grands), wiping down a dirty kitchen counter, putting my hands to the garden, wrapping a gift. My flawed and tight heart I bring; open a crack, listening, willing.
To enter that barn sanctuary, I must first gather my wandering heart and then push back against the world that wants to keep me wandering. Not against the people of the world, those I will love, but against the fray, the hubbub, the lusty, impatient short view. I set my heart against the busyness that crowds out my soul, that makes me forget my Maker and distracts me with shiny things.
Never does that push take more grit than at Christmastime. But gritty grit and unruly hope in the dailiness and the clutch is just what the manger gives. It is a brilliant stroke on God's part to venture into our world a tiny baby through the birth canal. Being born is struggle and life, it's sweat and searing pain, blood and raw beauty. A birth speaks to our souls. It happens against all odds and it changes e v e r y t h i n g .
The wild hope of Advent pushes back against what would strike it down even after being struck down. We have the advantage of looking at the swaddled Baby Jesus and knowing that King Herod never wanted him to see the light of day or grow beyond toddlerhood. Even before he was born the odds were against him and they stayed stacked that way to the end.
It seems to me there are two parts, maybe three, to the days of our Advent waiting. We need to see them all and find our place in the story. First, there is the wide history gone before, other Christ-watchers who waited for the Messiah and all the events leading to the birthday barn. Next arrived the moment Jesus was born, that crescendo of angel song and starlight out in the fields with dirty sheep. These days include his life in bone and blood; all his dusty steps, finding friends, healing touches and roasted fish around a beach fire. Finally, there is the waiting hope of right now, waiting for him a second time to finish what he so certainly began long before the manger.
God has set you and me down in this wild and unruly hope between Jesus' footsteps on the seashore and his feet resting on the ottoman of Peace. In the meantime, I have been born first and born again, now a roosting place for the dove. But what can I do during this long rainy season as I wait for the sun to return to the sky over my house? Remember the Ferris wheel. Like the sun in winter, it remains in place even while I cannot locate it against the sky.
With my eye on the Christmas star, I do the small and ordinary. The skin and sweat stuff around my home and on my little plot of land near the Pacific coastline and all the time I give Him glory as I go. Not just at Christmastime, but all year long. In that way I am not only a Christ-watcher, but a follower.
The Jesus we wait for is man-sweat and blood and God-holy. He meets me in the plain and ordinary; passing the potatoes around the table, washing the dinner dishes at the kitchen sink, early morning walks with a wet dog and right where my freckled skin stretches over my weary bones when I climb beneath the duvet at night.
I'd say He's come the lion's share of the distance between us. I can at least come to the manger.