Scripture reading for today:

Zechariah 9:9-13, Psalm 97, Hebrews 1:1-12, John 1:1-14

The Hope of the Prophets

I lost hope this Christmas season. 

I didn’t mean to, in fact, I’m not even sure where exactly I lost it. 

But lo and behold, somewhere between the eggnog and the garland, I slowed down enough to realize my trusty sense of “all manner of things shall be well” had gone missing. Had I misplaced it? Did it disappear forever?  

Surely, I thought, I can’t spend the season feeling like this. And for the last few weeks, I’ve done what every other Christmas-loving, Enneagram 7 (sometimes known as “the Enthusiast”), deck-the-halls kinda lady would do; I made some serious effort to provoke hope from its hiding place.  

Activities like hanging stockings by the fire with care, an Advent service with candles and slow carol singing, or a house brimming over with friends at the 10th Annual Elle’s Christmas Party (yes, that is a thing) didn’t help me locate my missing hope.  

Between you and me, I’d resigned myself to the fact that maybe 2019 would be a mirco-hopeful kinda Christmas, one where I give Elvis and his Blue Christmas album a spin and have a good cry.

However, God often has a sneaky way of showing up my life, in unexpected ways and through unexpected people. A dear friend, who was not aware of my hope-less state of affairs, sent over a quote that caused me to raise my gaze and I caught hope poking its head around the corner.  

“The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing”

– Walter Brueggemann

Imagination before implementation! 

Well, that’ll preach. 

For some reason, those words hit home and nudged hope out of its slumber all at the same time. I don’t presume myself to be a prophet in any sense of the word, but I do engage in an awful lot of future fantasy, imagining at great length what the church in Canada could be. Every time I start to dream of all the things, my imagination lights up like fireworks with the possibilities, promise and potential. It fills me with great wonder, deep curiosity, and of course, a sense of Jesus-drenched hope that things don’t have to be as they are currently.  

I blame all this beautiful and incessant pondering about the future on all of you. You, the inspiring, faithful, and Jesus-loving innovators that show up and share your stories and your lives at Learning Parties, Design Shops, Discernment Pathways and other events. In these places of spaciousness, where together we engage in future fantasy dreaming of starting new worshipping communities, new missional engagements, new neighbourhood initiatives, I get glimpses of the Body of Christ as it could be. And those moments are so devastatingly beautiful.

“Taste and see that Jesus is good” moments.

“Show and tell that the Spirit is at work” moments. 

“Bread and wine for the journey” moments, when I wish I could grab a take out container and keep feasting long after I am home. 

And yet, I am so quickly overwhelmed by the seeming realities of our age, that all is still not right with the world, or the church, and I’m back to where I was – looking underneath beds and in the back of closets, trying to figure out where my hope has gone.

I am starting to believe, in ever-increasing ways, this is the tension of what it means to follow Christ in our time and place. We are living our entire lives in Advent, making our home in this in-between time. We’re setting up shop right in the middle of the way things are and the way things ought to be. We stand in a dark place, but with our faces looking towards the dawn. We celebrate, on this Christmas morning, a baby in a manger who has come and yet will come again, holding on to hope in one hand and our broken world in the other. 

When all is not right with the world, it can be easy to believe that hope is for the naive, for the glass-half-full crowd, reserved for times when life is up and to the right. It can be easy to believe that hope is for the sweet souls among us who haven’t seen the dark side of institutions, haven’t suffered any hardships or never read the news. 

But this Christmas, I’m coming to see hope in Christ as the most 

revolutionary,

counter-cultural, 

resistance-starting, 

new-life-dreaming, 

reimagining-of-what-could-be, 

subversive posture 

that a human could ever hope to embody. 

Cynicism in our world seems so easy, but believing something could change while simultaneously saying all is not right with the world? Believing something new could be birthed right here in our midst? That kind of hope is courageous. 

Hope that is rooted not just in a place, but in a person. 

Hope that is rooted not just in calling out what is wrong, but grabbing a shovel and planting seeds for what one day will be right. 

Hope that is rooted in reality, yet still longs for the day that is coming where swords are beaten into plowshares, the captives are set free and Canada is healed.

Sounds almost foolish. Almost foolish enough to be true?

Zechariah 9:12 reminds us of this truth with such a beautiful turn of phrase: 

Return to your fortress, O you prisoners of hope; even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

O you prisoners of hope! 

Have you been engaging in some future fantasy, desiring to birth something new?  

Have you been dreaming of seeing something fresh break out in your existing church?

Have you been imagining a neighbourhood presence that bears faithful witness to the real and transformative power of Jesus? 

Return to your fortress, O you prisoners of hope. 

Keep desiring, 

keep dreaming, 

keep imaging. 

Hold on to hope and let Him hold on to you.

At the deepest dark, here in the Northern hemisphere, is precisely the time we choose to celebrate the historical birth of Christ, reminding us that even in the darkest times, hope is born. 

The light is breaking in. 

The days are turning. 

The infinite has taken up residence in our finite world. 

The fullness of God in human form. 

For us, fellow brothers and sisters, a child is born, to us, in these times of darkness, a son is given. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Our future fantasy and our ever-present hope, even when we thought we’d lost him. 

So may you, fellow prisoners of hope, know in deep and meaningful ways this mysterious miracle of a baby who comes in vulnerability to grant us our liberation, restoration and redemption. 

May you, fellow prisoners of hope, even in the spaciousness of uncertainty, in the polarized choice our culture offers us of pessimism or optimism, chose to cultivate, practice and abide in revolutionary, counter-cultural, Jesus-centered hope. 

And may you, fellow prisoners of hope, desire, dream and imagine starting new and beautiful things this Christmas season as we sing together, from coast to coast, united in one voice — O come, O come, Emmanuel! 

Thank you for reading the New Leaf Advent Reader, a collection of reflections from writers across Canada. If you are enjoying the reader, sign up to receive the readings in your inbox each day here: SIGN UP And please share this reflection with your friends and family who might also enjoy it.