Right now I’m reading Lila, the brilliant novel by Marilynne Robinson, and although it’s not a Christmas book, Advent fairly drips from the pages.
When we meet Lila, she is newly with child. This turn of events is so surprising, so unforeseen, that she barely allows herself to hold on to the news, let alone speak it aloud.
I imagine her expression must have looked something like young Mary’s at the Annunciation:
How can this be?
She’s been alone for such a long time. Too long, maybe. And she’s never stayed anywhere long enough to let anyone get close to her.
How can she dare to hope that this good man loves her . . . will keep on loving her? Surely if he knew everything, he would ask her leave. Or install barbed wire around his heart.
And now . . . a baby? To think that she could be part of bringing something good into this world after dwelling in so much darkness? She can’t allow her heart to crack open even a sliver for such a hope. And so she tries to seal herself off, to make sure no hope leaks in:
She thought a thousand times about the ferociousness of things so that it might not surprise her entirely when it showed itself again.
But as the story goes on, hope wears her down, wrapped in an overcoat of unrelenting love, and she finally surrenders to it.
Let it be to me as you have said.
There’s a song I love that goes like this:
Hope hears the music of the future
Before it’s played
Faith is the courage
To dance to it today
The first week of Advent stands for hope, and I think it’s the hardest candle of all to keep lit. Hope asks big things of us. It requires that we let go of the ferociousness we imagine and instead cling to the promises we’ve been given.
Here’s the other thing about hope: it makes us look like fools at times. Have you ever seen someone dancing to music no one else can hear? It’s ridiculous, at best. Hope means tuning our hearts to the melody God has placed inside us, long before the notes hit the air. But hope like this is worth the price, because this kind of hope does not disappoint.
During this Advent season, may we dance to the hope of his promises, even amid the silence.
Hope is imagining God’s future into the present.
N. T. Wright