A Progressive Christian Blog

When “Hope” Sounds Tone Deaf

hope-seriously


Don’t Talk to Me About Hope

You know where I stand on feelings as it relates to Donald J. Trump as our president.

For me and countless others (maybe even yourself) going from the news that Trump won the election directly in to the first Sunday in Advent just three weeks later–which calls us to contemplate Hope–was pretty jarring. Like how broccoli seems to be fine in the fridge… right up until it isn’t.

The shock is sudden, unexpected, and leaves you scrambling in emergency response mode.

For those already on the margins, for those already with a history of being oppressed, for those who have been fighting for years for equality and civil rights, a Trump presidency offers plenty of cause for concern.

And so, to think about Hope (let alone try and preach on it) in the face of such shock and fear simply felt, well, tone deaf.

Hope?

Really?

Lament, yes.
Grief, appropriate.
Frustration and anger, certainly.

But Hope?
It seemed a bit too flowery, too soon.

At least, that’s how I felt.

So I decided to, in the words of Brené Brown, get curious about my feelings.

Why was I struggling to engage with, consider, and enter in to Hope?

And then, like the way a child’s glee on Christmas morning snaps you out of any stress-induced Holiday Funk, re-reading the Christmas Story illuminated precisely why Hope felt to me out of reach, illusive, and tone-deaf.

Because I was doing it wrong.

Redirecting Hope

What I realized was this: my struggle with Hope, in light of the changing political climate, revealed to me that I had inadvertently (and perhaps subconsciously?) been placing my Hope in the political system, in the presidential position, and in our country as a whole.

In other words, I think that over the past several years I had become pretty comfortable with the way in which my own political and idealogical perspectives were represented and advocated for at the highest levels of our government. And this of course provided for various legislative efforts that lined up closely with some of my deeply held values.

And this sort of alignment–between my own beliefs and those of the president/system/country–gradually caused a subtle-but-significant shift in the object of my Hope.

I had come to place my Hope (for changing the world, for saving the world, for the betterment of the world, you name it) in the Powers That Be.

But it wasn’t until these things all got stripped away on Election Night, and reflecting on it in the days that followed, that I realized this.

What had happened for me, in the face of a Trump presidency where virtually none of my deeply held values will be fought or advocated for, was I began to feel hopeless. Hence, the first week of Advent feeling jarringly out of place.

But ah, the simple power of story.

In particular, the Story of Jesus birth.

It was exactly what I needed to redirect my Hope back where it belongs.

What the Christmas Story Teaches Us About Hope

In the context of the most powerful Empire the world had ever seen, who’s military might was unparalleled, who’s wealth was unmatched…

…arose this small band of people who rallied around an idea of radical love for their enemy, justice for the oppressed, and mercy for the brokenhearted.

And these radicals were among the poorest and most ignored people.

Jesus was born into a Palestinian world that held no power. A people group who’s necks were pinned to the ground by the boot of Rome. The Kingdom movement started not at the top, with the powers that be, but at the bottom, with those who’s voice didn’t matter.

In the context of the most powerful Ruler in the known world, who controlled the most powerful Empire, who could command forces with but a word, who was propped up as a Divine Son of God, whom people were required to kneel before and declare, “Caesar is Lord…”

… was born a humble baby in an even humbler village in an even humbler way.

Mary wasn’t anyone to anybody. She gave birth to a random baby, surrounded by dirty animals and even dirtier shepherds. Another nobody to anybody.

And yet, amidst all that “nobody-ness” was where God chose to manifest Divine love and mercy and grace.

Not where it might make the most sense (with a Ruler who could truly do anything), but where it seemed to make the least sense: with a mother and son who didn’t even have a respectable place to stay in town and who eventually had to flee to Egypt because they had no way to protect themselves from the crazy paranoia of King Herod.

And finally, in the context of a political machine, where acts of policy could be decisive and swift and all-consuming…

… came a little family who quite literally have nothing special about them.

And it was through that little family that a movement who would challenge the government and the religious establishment was birthed and gained traction.

Because as Jesus taught us, the Kingdom of God is not designed to enter the world from the top down, but always and only from the bottom up.

And this is what the Christmas Story teaches us, and reminds us every year.

Real hope—hope for change, for transformation, for peace, for justice–real hope should not be invested in a global empire, or an influential leader, or a system of power and processes.

Those things will always fail.
Will always disappoint.

No, what the story of Jesus’ birth teaches us, is that

Empires don’t save the world.
Marginalized and powerless people groups do.

(Example: The way in which Native Americans peacefully protested the Dakota Pipeline)

Emperors don’t save the world.
Unwed pregnant teenagers and immigrant babies do.

(Example: The way in which a 7 year old girl named Bana, living in Aleppo, exposes the tragedy of war)

Loud extraordinary shows of power don’t save the world.
Quiet ordinary acts of love do.

(Example: The way in which these veterans confessed and repented before Native American leaders)

So this Advent Season, if you are like me and struggling to find a reason to Hope, I pray that you remember where the Christmas story points us.

Because we will always have those on the margins who are robbed of power, we will always have ignored and oppressed people, we will always have people doing small acts of great love…

which means we will always have sources to provide Hope.

As long as we’re looking in the right places.


This post was adapted from a sermon I gave two weeks ago titled “Searching for Hope.” 
You can get that sermon here, and subscribe to my preaching podcast here.

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