Dear Andrew: Advent and the Thrill of Hope

The other day I was walking out of the store and I saw a magazine cover out of the corner of my eye. It was the Magnolia magazine, and there was an article titled “the thrill of hope”. I didn’t read the article or even stop to look at the magazine. But I went away with that line in my head.

That’s a line from a Christmas song, and we will start listening to Christmas music soon. Daddy says no Christmas music before Advent. Honestly, I didn’t think you were even aware of the approach of Christmas, until you spotted a sparkly garland hung in some store in the mall, and you informed daddy that it was ‘Christmas.’ I hope you start remembering Christmas this year and making fun memories…storing up experiences with grandparents and cousins, snow and sugar cookies and the giant tree you’re not allowed to touch. But I have to make sure you get the important part—the Jesus story. 

It’s a good thing you have a head for music. Christmas hymns are some of the best songs I know, and you can remember a song after hearing it just two or three times. The line “the thrill of hope” comes from a Christmas song that is very difficult to sing—at least for me. The range is too high. But it’s time for you to gather these songs like falling leaves to keep throughout your life. And someday they’ll make more sense to you.

I’m not sure what you know of “hope’—you know about expectations; you ask to go and see the pumpkins when I get you from daycare, every day. You know about getting excited—when you see that mommy is eating a cookie, for instance, and you come over like a puppy, eyes wide as plates, smiling in that cheeky way. You know to look forward to things, and you know to anticipate. And what’s worse, I think you know about hopes being crushed. And because you are at the age where you can’t be reasoned with and you can’t tell me why you’re upset, I think dashed hope are particularly painful. Why don’t you get a jellybean when the bag is clearly on the table? The fact that the bag is empty means nothing. Why didn’t Daddy come with us to the store when he always does? It hurts me to see it, but it’s part of being a human on this planet.

At the moment you’re watching a clip from Star Wars: A New Hope. You love the aesthetic—Stormtroopers and Rebel Fighters, droids and Jedi and an annoying young Luke Skywalker. The lovely Princess Leia—the only princess you know anything about, which is fine with me—tells your favorite hood-wearer, Obi-Wan Kenobi, that he is her only hope. She is desperate for help and she is turning to someone she doesn’t even know, who might not even be alive, to save herself and her comrades from the Empire’s forces. She puts that message into R2D2’s memory, and then she gets arrested by Stormtroopers minutes later. She then has to be tortured, insulted, and watch her planet explode in front of her (you don’t watch those clips, but you’ll have seen them by the time you read this), before Han and Luke appear. And they’re not exactly what she was hoping for—an obnoxious farm boy and a sneering smuggler (and Chewbacca. We love Chewbacca.) But they rescue her. The hope she put in Obi-Wan wasn’t wasted. But it was a long road for her.

When I saw the magazine emblazoned with “the thrill of hope”, I was carrying bags of groceries to the car. My distracted mind ran through the images the words brought up—people singing Christmas hymns, trees decked out with fancy ornaments, quiet church services lit by candles, cold drives around the neighborhood to look at gaudy lights. Then I actually thought about the words ‘the thrill of hope’. And I thought of the most thrilling day of my life.

It was the day I was setting up my classroom and got a call from the doctor’s office—I expected they would tell me I needed to get a prescription. But they told me that there had been ‘a tiny little positive line on the pregnancy test’. Good thing I was sitting down.

I raced out of the room, no idea where I was going, up the stairs, then down again, then into the parking lot. 

There would be days of waiting and crying and tests before they confirmed my wild hope—that I would, indeed, have a child. And the road between that tiny little line and the first time I saw your face would be even longer, fraught with worry and filled with more and more hopes that hurt sometimes. But that was the best phone call I ever got. I hope you have kids someday and can know what I’m talking about. 

Someday you’ll know what I know—that you’re a sinner. And it will crush you in little ways: consequences for mistakes you didn’t think were that big a deal, the ramifications of selfishness, a hurt look on a friend’s face, a disappointed word from a teacher you adore. Maybe, like other kids raised in Christian homes, you’ll say the prayer and get baptized before the full reality of your sinfulness hits you (it happened to me, but that’s a story for another day). And then, when you bow your head perfunctorily and say the prayers we’ve taught you and recall the words to hymns and psalms, maybe you’ll know the hope all the saints have known. It’s the hope that it was all true, and true not just for some hypothetical person, but for you and your very specific sins. 

I wonder if Zechariah felt the thrill of hope—I know his wife Elizabeth did. I wonder if Mary did, or if she was more worried about what her fiancée would say. I wonder if when she saw Joseph’s face after his dream, she suddenly had the thrilling hope that she wouldn’t have to do this Virgin Birth thing on her own. That Joseph would be her kindred spirit after all, through this weird and universe-changing adventure.

Jesus brought hope to so many people in His life—the woman at the well, the blind and the sick and the terribly ashamed. I really do pray that you find hope in Him too. I don’t know what it will look like when you do, but I pray for it all the time.

And every now and then I get a flash of hope for your salvation, your understanding of the gospel. When you sing Jesus Loves Me and say your little prayers at night, when you point to a painting and say “Jesus?”, when you choose to NOT throw a tantrum even though I was expecting one…I thank God. 

Happy first Sunday of Advent,


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