Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
I am anxious, excited, terrified, wildly hopeful
a complete turmoil of nerves,
unsettled to the point that my stomach feels queasy.
I am tongue-tied with anticipation
as if speaking might burst the bubble of a dream,
yet if I don’t speak, I might explode with all that overwhelms me.
Tense in between the bliss and chaos of waiting,
I just might collapse into tears.
Something has been promised!
Something has been promised
that is so keenly desired,
so desperately needed,
so longingly dreamed of,
so impossibly out of reach
yet hauntingly within sight
and I tell myself to be cool, for heaven’s sake,
to not look as eager and anxious as I feel
just act like it’s no big deal
whether the promise is fulfilled,
whether the dream is realized.
Be smooth, I tell myself – non-anxious,
so that no one sees your delight
if the impossible becomes possible
(perhaps as soon as tomorrow), but also
so that no one will know your disappointment
if the dream remains elusive for years or forever.
Just breathe and no one will know your disappointment
if the gladness never replaces the mourning,
if the harvest never springs from the earth,
if the ruins are never restored.
Pretend like it doesn’t matter
if the wilderness never blooms,
if good news never manifests for the poor,
if broken hearts remain unmended,
if release is never granted to the prisoners,
if injustice is never repaid or made right.
Swallow that knot in your throat
that moments ago was your heart
leaping ecstatically at the glimpse of a possibility.
Feel the knot settle into the pit of your stomach
like it’s a lost friendship or a loved one’s death,
like it’s the daily gasp of work’s overload,
like it’s an unexpected medical bill,
like it’s another tweet that compromises your life,
like it’s a wave of depression that comes as surely as the tide,
like it’s the fatigue of wondering whether we can make a difference.
It’s hard to linger for very long
in a state of genuine anticipation.
It’s hard to sustain an Advent spirit
that waits on the edge of its seat
without secretly fearing disappointment.
Because after a while of watching the pot
that is the promises of God and wondering
when exactly those promises will come to a boil,
we can be tempted to adopt the perspective of those who
heard John the Baptist’s prophecy of a coming Messiah:
the priests and the teachers who were curious to come to the river
but – after generations upon generations
of living in anticipation of a messiah
without a messiah showing up –
they couldn’t get excited or find any hope within themselves
because the hope that once unsettled their stomachs
and caught their breaths had hardened
So many years they had waited:
charged with watching,
charged with praying,
charged with holding onto hope,
charged with leading in the meantime,
charged with patience and faithfulness
while the world around them crumbled and rebuilt
and crumbled again, surviving governments and wars,
waiting for the relief promised through Isaiah,
waiting for the joy promised even before that
to the ones wandering in the wilderness.
Along comes yet another prophet
“Make straight the way of the LORD,
the Messiah is coming!”
and the hope that has become a pit
of cynicism and depression
cannot even wonder
whether this time it might be so.
“Who are you?
Why is your prophecy
any different from all the others?
If all you have is water,
why should we believe you?”
Their mouths had forgotten
how to laugh at impossible possibilities,
like Sarah laughed
at the news that she would
give birth to a long-awaited son.
Their tongues had forgotten
how to rejoice and shout and sing,
like Miriam sang
after the people crossed the Red Sea
even though a wilderness still lay before them.
Their stomachs had forgotten
the delicious nervousness
of a promise on the verge of fulfillment
like a Christmas present waiting to be opened.
Their hearts had forgotten the quick pound of love,
the sudden wild racing of a burden relieved,
the heat & blush of tears overflowing with joy.
Their dreams had forgotten imagination,
too convinced by the harsh realities of the world
to fantasize about a harvest in the desert
or equality for the disenfranchised
or peace for the nations.
But if their dreams had forgotten it
or if our hearts have become hardened to it
or if our spirits have resigned themselves
to settle for less in order to avoid disappointment,
then we very likely need John the Baptist
to splash a little cold water on our spiritual weariness;
we need Isaiah to shout without ceasing until
the ears of our hearts hear again what just might be possible:
freedom for prisoners,
healing for the brokenhearted,
good news for the poor and the oppressed,
a garland of gladness instead of ashes of lament,
a song of praise instead of a faint spirit.
God is about nothing less
than the full realization of justice
and the healed embodiment of love –
and this does matter, terribly so.
I try to play it off, to be non-anxious in hope.
We try to abide one day at a time,
try to work hard while we wait
– without minding the pins and needles –
but our wariness and weariness in waiting
can easily harden in our efforts
to be practical and non-anxious about God’s promises.
These promises have come slowly before,
they are coming slowly now,
but we can’t be cool about it, we can’t be calm
because truly it matters
to see justice realized and love healed;
desperately it matters and
not just to us but to who God is.
And if we only ever glimpse
the faintest shadow of such a vision;
if we only ever hear whispers
of a few faint syllables of such a possibility;
it would be enough
to set our pulses racing,
to make our palms sweaty with nervousness,
to make our stomachs anxious and our hearts tender,
to well up our spirits with laughter and tears of joy,
to get us shouting about the beauties of heaven
and to send us compulsively, obsessively
into the world with love that knows no limits.
At the risk of open-heartedness
and even broken-heartedness,
we must be unsettled with hope:
nervously eager in anticipation and
blushed with the burning joy
of an impossible possibility.
Not because God’s vision has arrived yet,
not because the Good News is fulfilled yet
but simply and entirely because it’s possible.
The Reverend Peter Faass
The Reverend Peter Faass was born in Delft, Netherlands. He is a graduate of the General Theological Seminary in New York City and has been at Christ Church since 2006.