We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience.
“Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’”
“The Times They Are A-Changin’”, by Bob Dylan
“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
-John Sullivan Dwight, et al
Some years ago, I was asked to sing O Holy Night for a Christmas Eve candle lighting. It’s long been my favorite Christmas carol, but it can be a challenging song for a vocalist. One of the keys to mastering it is intentionally mapping out where in the phrases to draw a breath. In this line for example, you place a quick pause between “a thrill of hope” and “a weary world rejoices,” a natural break between the phrases that feels seamless for the listener.
Advent isn’t a seamless season though.
In Advent we take time to lament the brokenness and suffering of the world we find ourselves in now, intensifying the deep longing we feel for the return of the Messiah. In Advent we recognize that “Joy to the world the Lord is come” is a long awaited cry of relief after centuries of “O come O come Emanuel and ransom captive Israel.”
In Advent we acknowledge that there is actually a brutally long wait between the words “a weary world” and “rejoices.” There is nothing seamless about it.
Yet our passage from Romans points to a surprising truth. That “thrill of hope” isn’t found in the sweet relief of seeing the Savior arrive at long last. No, it’s found right there in that same agonizing space of longing. Verse 24 tells us “if we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see?” Put another way, hope isn’t hope if you don’t have something to long for. In fact, if we look back earlier in Romans at chapter 5 we read that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” (v. 3-4, ESV)
The “thrill of hope” is found in the place of sacred tension between the brokenness of this world and His glorious Kingdom to come. Hope isn’t relentless optimism or focusing only on the positives, hope requires fully acknowledging the suffering from which our longing springs. It’s in our greatest pain we find the greatest longing for our even greater Savior. It’s in the sorrow of earth we best whet our appetites for the sweet taste of heaven. And it’s in recognizing injustice around us that we most identify with the powerful hope of the perfect justice the Savior will bring. “Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, and in He name all oppression shall cease.”
This is a hope with teeth, a discipline born of long-suffering and endurance. It’s a hope that doesn’t just look to the future, it’s ready to fight another day to bring a little more of that Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Stephanie Tait wears many hats. Blogger, speaker, author, wife, mother, Jesus follower. Her fifteen-years and counting battle with Lyme disease has reshaped her view on the goodness of God. She makes her home in Oregon, where she lives with her husband and two children. She shares her stories at stephanietaitwrites.com.