If you look down from our little apartment balcony onto the square, you see the green tops of some scrawny trees and the usual crowds of Afghani families sitting around the benches. The children chase and feed the pigeons, (which seem to multiply like mice here), and the homeless spread their blankets and bags on the benches for the night.
Frequently, I am jolted from my normal routine by a resounding, desperate scream from the square. It’s the kind of scream that bounces off the walls and pierces your heart. When I reach the square, all I do is watch where everyone is staring, and I find source.
Have you ever felt that helpless wave of sadness as you look into the face of one who seems completely disconnected from hope?
A few weeks ago, when the screams erupted again, I walked into the square and tried to calm a young girl. I stayed with her for some time, and wasn’t able to connect with her at all. Disheartened, I watched her walk away, yelling belligerently into the faces of onlookers.
Sometimes it all seems like a series of disheartening and hopeless events; like the very hope rays you clung to so long are slinking behind darkening clouds on the horizon.
It all seems really out of our control somedays. We can’t force people to do the right things and make the right decisions and we can’t change our own desperate longing hearts. We can’t change the circumstances for the ones who have endured the worst atrocities. We can’t even stop the world for a moment of silence. It all keeps moving and happening and people keep losing and grieving, and this advent season has seemed like a long month of watching desperate sadness.
That’s why I keep lighting my tall advent candle and watching the light flicker and burn long into the night. And I keep bending low to catch the words of the music.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt His worth. A thrill of Hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
I was chopping more veggies to stretch the meager beef I had to feed a crowd this week. As we stirred and fried in my kitchen, I looked down to see my friend sitting on the floor sobbing in agony as she shared with me the pain of her last years. Her baby girl reached for a kitchen towel, wiping her Mama’s tears away.
“Don’t cry, Mama, don’t cry!”
“It’s just my eyes… it’s just my eyes.”
We stayed together in the kitchen that night, baking gingerbread men. Baby girl stuffed big mouths full of gingerbread in our mouths and we served the Mongolian beef. A kind young man tried it and said, “The beef was great, it just danced in my mouth!
I had a thrill of hope within me. Nothing changed around me, the beef was tough as rubber, and my friend was grieving… but I felt Jesus as Emanuel, God with us. God with her. God with them. His very presence breathes hope into our despair this advent.
Yesterday I painstakingly wrote the words in Greek from the whiteboard at college. The names of God, in order with the letters of the alphabet. It started with Alpha and it ended with Omega.
The coming one.
The names resounded within me, a thrill of hope.
Devoted Orthodox monks here in Greece sit high up in mountain monasteries and caves hoping to encounter God. One has allegedly been in a cave in the mountain for over 60 years. Their hope is to experience the God they long for.
The deepest thrill of hope within me this advent season is that God is indeed Emmanuel, God with us. We do not need to retreat away to find Him. We do not need the perfect Christmas setting to feel Him. We do not need daily reminders of good things happening around us, but the eternal glow of His spirit within us.
Do not let the hectic buzz of the Christmas spirit consume this hope flame within you. Do not let the mantles and fires and perfect trees distract you from the peace of His presence. The true thrill of this season is that Jesus came to us, and so the true thrill of our hearts should be to shine his hope into dark places. In these places, we find Him, shining brighter then ever before.
The girl in the park came and threw her arms around me this week, hugging me tight.
It was a thrill of hope, and my weary heart rejoices.