Jenna McDonald — Grace Is Waiting 

Savour these moments of hope

Voices Dec. 21, 2018

We can celebrate the baby in the manager like a mother who feels intimately connected with the newborn baby she has just met, writes Jenna McDonald. (Pixabay photo)

At one point, Jesus had that intoxicating newborn smell. Like every mother who has ever lived, Mary knew that uncanny feeling of intimately knowing someone she had met only moments before.

In fleeting moments, we experience God afresh and have the momentary sense of remembering something we never actually forgot. We tap into what St. Augustine called the “beauty ever-ancient and ever-new,” a beauty so sacred yet so tender; living and breathing within us. “You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.”

Today, the opportunities for encountering this beauty are rare. St. Augustine speaks of these epiphanies with deep reverence. But today, the story of Jesus seems too long ago and too much of a stretch to apply to daily life. The language of salvation feels old and tired and unrelatable.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time,” St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans. He makes reference to how the work of Jesus’ birth and death is still being accomplished. We await the fullness of our redemption as time unfolds.

Until then, we try to remember what we have heard and seen. We trudge onward that we may be found in hope amid the clouds of doubt and the lure of worldly gain. “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” says St. Paul. The power of our faith is directly tied to the tenacity of our hope.

Pop-culture Christianity has been examined and found lacking. Many leaders have lost credibility due to personal sin and corruption. The young especially have turned to a curated faith experience characterized by emotion-based introspection and a disengagement from any virtue-based approach to religion. There is widespread disillusionment and distrust of any institution claiming to have any bits of spiritual truth in their coffers.

Yet there is hunger. And where there is hunger, there is searching, praise be to God. Biblically, even lone rangers have served a purpose.

There is a movement – or perhaps a manifestation of desperate spiritual hunger – rumbling among God’s people. The language is vague and searching but not in a disappointing way. Many of these searchers haven’t been to their father’s house for supper in a while and they have grown tired of the repetitive, soul-less formalities. They forget the language spoken in their homelands, but their hearts remember the way there. Some of them have wandered hungry for generations.

The search is circling concentrically around Emmanuel, God with us. This is the only truth that is good enough and big enough to redeem anyone who needs redeeming. To have hope in all of the wayfaring around us is the work of the Christian. To walk with the wayfarers is the work of the saint.

So many imperfect people (many of them lone rangers) prepared us for the moment of God’s enfleshment. So many people were faithful to difficult missions, delivered unpopular messages, went into lands when they’d rather go home. So many prophets were complete and utter failures. There was no Twitter to document and broadcast the minute details to the smug masses. And still, these small people were decimated in the name of “preparing the way.” All of this chaos and messiness in preparation for what this baby would do.

But it was such a long wait. And so many people fell away, lost their initial zeal, turned to other gods, filled their loneliness and longing with ambition, debauchery, and quests for self-expression and bored narcissism. Not much has changed.

Like the Israelites complaining at the manna raining down from heaven, we have become too familiar with the idea of God and in the meantime have become completely alienated from the Living God. His Living Word is dismissed by much of the world as being too laborious for our enlightened, cultured sensibilities. We don’t really believe that each tiny thing we do speaks to who we are and who we worship. The weight of it all (the fidelities and infidelities) is being added in the scales, personally and culturally.

If we’ve done a little bit of preparation ourselves for Christ’s coming, we too can find in ourselves more than a little curiosity at just how Jesus will accomplish it all. How will he reveal himself to those who have already dismissed him? How will he convince us all that he is relevant?

Well, he will. If a baby in a stable can change the course of history slowly but surely over thousands of years, a king coming in heavenly glory will stop the show. Because as we know, it isn’t over. So savour these moments celebrating the baby in the manger. These are the moments for hope. The days will surely come when each one of us will shed our hope as one sheds a coat in the sunshine.