A Cynic's Hope – Advent Reflection from Ryan Marsh

by Christine Sine

This afternoon’s reflection comes from Ryan Marsh pastor of Church of the Beloved, a missional community in Edmonds, WA.  They are hosting some great holiday events and as Ryan comments: You should come, it’s not that bad.


It wins elections.  It fuels change.

Everybody wants hope.  Right?

Sure.  We want a hope we can wear on a t-shirt, but we sure as hell don’t want the long dark night of hope, because hope is hard work and not for the faint of heart.

Hope ignites the painter’s imagination

when staring at a blank canvass.

Hope burns in the activist’s bones

until they tell the truth to powers that be.

Hope pushes the laboring pregnant woman

past the pain to a child in her arms.

Hope drives the vigilant parent

to wait up all night when a teenager breaks curfew.

Hope nudges the bored therapist

into curiosity about who the person they sit across from is awkwardly becoming.  And hope is hard, hard work.

But most of what we like to call hope is merely a wish, a fantasy that successfully entertains us, but for which we are unwilling to cry, sweat and bleed in order to see it come into existence.  We swallow this kind of hallow hope like an Aspirin to numb our dissatisfaction with our present, but this daydream has little power to create actual change within us or anything else.

That’s why, when we are honest about hope, we are, at best, rage-ingly ambivalent about hope.  We want it and we don’t, because the wanting creates an aching void in us that we can’t seem to leave empty.  And it’s amazing all that we can fit into that vacancy.  The world’s economy depends on it.  Christmas depends on it!  And it is our duty as citizens to have it, super-size it, half off, no interest for a year, right now.  In a strange turn of events, Christmas is the most hopeless of all holidays.  The Church might try to major in faithfulness, but we are failing hopefulness.

This is how Eugene Peterson interprets St. Luke in chapter 21: “…Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise…”

Christian hope is not wrapped up in the ‘what’, but the ‘who’.  It’s not based on a certainty around future events and timetables, or getting everything we want, instead Christian hope puts every last egg in the basket of this unreasonable trust that the birth of an illegitimate son of a teen mother in occupied Palestine is what God is doing to make all things new.  That’s a pretty tough hope to sell.  So thank God that God keeps a promise whether we hope for it or not.  So thank God that God’s kingdom comes whether we pray for it or not.  And maybe surprise will find us this Advent.  Maybe God will put within us the hope for us to hope that Mary’s son is actually mending the entire universe, even though everything around us and in says, “How naive!”  Now, I might be open to that.

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