The first week of Advent, the candle is called the Prophet’s candle, and the theme for the week is Hope.
The old testament reading on Sunday spoke to the hope of the people of Israel:
The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise
I made to the house of Israel and Judah (Jer 33:14)
My heart thrills to these words because I know they will be echoed on Easter Sunday in Matthew 28:6, when the angel tells the Marys “He is not here! He has risen, just as he said!”
Just as he said.
I didn’t understand how important this was to me until a bit ago, when one of my children asked me why I believe in God. “Because he keeps his promises” I told them without hesitation, and realized the truth of the words as they left my mouth. I am a Martha—practical and proficient. I am also a Thomas, in a way. I don’t need to see with my eyes to believe, but I need to feel presence. I need to be in relationship.
It takes a lot of hope and trust to be in relationship with God. I didn’t know that as a child. I thought the adults in my life could see God himself; I figured that at some point, I would have enough faith and poof! be able to see God too. When that didn’t happen by the time I was in high school, I kind of thought I wasn’t good enough. But who wants to internalize that? So I built a God wall around myself and dared God to climb it. If he loved me, he would.
God could have blown my wall down in a hot second, roared at me in all his glory and humbled me into submission. But he loves me, so he didn’t.
He could have met my demand that he prove himself in my life by climbing that wall. But he loves me, so he didn’t.
Instead, he moved in someone else’s life, and I was lucky enough to be a witness.
When I was a junior in high school, my religion teacher Mrs. D was a sweet, young and faithful woman who was newly married. Early in the year, she announced she was pregnant. This is not an announcement that a teacher undertakes lightly. Pregnancy is a private matter, but in a way, your students are part of your privacy circle. You can’t hide it, and you know that they will become invested. So you think carefully about when you will tell them. In all three of my pregnancies, my students were the last to know, well into the second trimester.
I don’t know how pregnant Mrs. D was when she announced her first pregnancy. But she lost the baby soon after. When she announced in the Spring that she was pregnant again, she waited long enough that she had a bump. But again, soon after announcing, she lost the baby.
We were so sad for her. Sometimes in teenagers, that looks like anger. I was critical of her continued prayers in class that God would send her a child. It made me uncomfortable, like she was begging for something for which she had already been told no, twice. Her hope felt too vulnerable to me, too trusting, like her heart was laid outside her body and unprotected. How many time would she allow God to break her heart?
But she persisted, in hope and faith.
When we returned in the Fall, she was clearly pregnant again. She didn’t say anything. She walked around class every day, in maternity clothes, acting like there was no growing belly, nothing to see. We figured she was scared and who could blame her?
But she wasn’t scared. And she was not as pregnant as she looked.
She was carrying twins.
When she told us, with a clap of thunder, I could see God.
Not because of my faith. Because of hers. Not because God kept a promise to me. Because he kept a promise to her. Not because his plan for good won out in my life. Because it won out in hers.
I do not mean to suggest in any way that her struggle with becoming a mom was for my benefit. It’s gross to even type those words. It was her journey, and I don’t know the intimate truths behind it.
And at the time, I still thought her relationship with God—and therefore mine—was transactional. God had taken two babies away and then when she was ready?…deserving?…obedient?…enough, he gave her two babies at once. It would take me years to shake off this misunderstanding, that our God is a God of whims and manipulations. Not until my own spiritual battle around a serious illness did I understand the folly of that thinking: God does not create pain in our lives for his own glory later. He loves us and will work his plans for our good, for our welfare and hope (Jer 29), and work all things—even the bad and evil things—for the good of those who love him (Rom 8). It’s not transactional. We don’t have to deserve it. It is ours from love. Our hope is justified.
So as we wait in the quiet winters of our lives—not only this season of Advent, but also this time of COVID, or whatever winters we are currently experiencing—we have to keep the light of hope burning in our hearts. God will keep his promises to us.
Just as he said.