Grief and Hope

Grief and Hope December 9, 2018

This is a beautiful and tragic piece that made the rounds a week or two ago. It, better than anything I’ve read yet, articulates the anguished cry of the world’s gasping and dying expectations. This is the malady of the west—that along the way the pursuit of happiness was subverted, somehow, to be all about experiencing actual happiness, as the advertisers foretell, and it’s lying cousin, Nostalgia. The two replace the rich breadth of human experience, expectation, and knowledge in an almost totalitarian sense.

I say expectation, of course, because it is Advent—a season of expectation, of enduring the unhappy collision of what you want with what God has already given. You look at the state of your own self, as honestly as you can, and what you wish you could have, who you wish you could be, and then face down God’s answer. It’s not the business of wondrous merriment, of magic and sparkle. It is the dark hope of looking at the Truth and finally accepting it, without any more excuses or stories about how it doesn’t apply to you.

Which is the collision of Christmas with Advent, or the Christian Life with the World, or your own plans for God and his plans for you. You want life to go one way, you want the problems to be outside of yourself, but God rejects that diagnoses utterly and insists that you are the one who must be healed, never mind everybody else. Instead of a King to make your material circumstances better and to make you happy, he sends John the Baptist to indict you, to tell you how you’ve gone wrong and that you must turn away from all your inclinations and plans.

Part of being an Anglican in Advent is having to peer at a person nobody even knows about, who came on the scene suddenly and then disappeared, whom Malachi forewarns will be “a refiner’s fire.” You go, as I complain every week, from the mad hue and cry of shopping for the sparkly belief in a single happy day, of beating back the darkness for a few minutes with Stuff, into church where you have to look at John’s lean, desperate face. The preacher reminds you, if he is doing his job, that the world didn’t want John and they didn’t want Jesus, and that if you think he’s come to give you a good time you’re wrong. Align your expectations with God’s divine, provident plans. He came to save you, but do you even know that you need to be saved.

Christians at Christmas suppose themselves to be all about hope—and peace, and joy. But go back and read that article, if you didn’t, and relish the haunting beauty of this line,

But in my experience, at least: Dysphoria feels like being unable to get warm, no matter how many layers you put on. It feels like hunger without appetite. It feels like getting on an airplane to fly home, only to realize mid-flight that this is it: You’re going to spend the rest of your life on an airplane. It feels like grieving. It feels like having nothing to grieve.

Indeed, if you’re doing it right, this ought to be your upward trajectory toward Jesus, your grasping and haunting journey from the manger to the garden to the cross, your desperate hopelessness when his own body was laid, heartbroken, in the grave. This is the human way, the wanting something that you cannot have.

The continual relentless knowledge of something that you know you ought to have, that you were designed to inhabit, but that you cannot grab a hold of in this life.

This is why the incarnation is so stunning, and why God can never be called upon for any revolution. He is never going to go along with your agenda for a better world. Because look how he came—into the painful and terrible limitations of human flesh, the perverse psychic trauma of having a body and a soul that you know were supposed to live perfectly together, never to be severed or undone. He took on flesh because he, having once created it, then watched its tumultuous destruction, the ravages of sin and rebellion taking over what was created for peace. He took it back and endured its grief, even unto death.

But not for the sake of death. Not for a wound that would never be healed. No, rather to utterly undo, unravel, unmake the separation of the body from the spirit, to trample down and destroy death itself. The body—his body, your body, the corporate and mystical body of the church, united and at peace—is why you go and sit, fixed in place, waiting in expectant hope for the only one who can restore the one to the other—God to man, God to woman, God to humanity, and even you to yourself.

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