God With Us: Joy, Grief, and Hope

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Marie Antoinette and my Christmas tree.

God with us.

The world is full of grief and joy. This morning, when I opened my Facebook, I was grieved to see reports of violence and death of innocence. I stopped, and bowed my head and prayed. What more can we do sometimes?

This morning, I am home. I awoke at 4:59, Jet lag persistently tapping at my shoulder, not allowing a wink more of sleep. I snuck down stairs and made tea. My father heard me sneaking around, and turned on the Christmas lights. As the sun rose, the trees, all dressed in snow and frost shimmered an almost blue color in the early light. My sister, also jet lagged, came also, and there we sat and felt the swaddling of peace from the comfort of home and the quiet of early morning.

How is it that I am so lucky? So blessed? I did nothing to merit the calm of life this morning. Other suffer, and I do not. It isn’t fair.

I remember one evening this summer, I went on a walk near sunset. As I walked, I had a cloud of sadness that followed me, and as I walked it whispered in my ear “This is the truth. Grief is at the heart of the universe.” Sometimes it does feel that way, doesn’t it? That what can be counted on is one where bad things happen. The good can feel like a pause in between, or a turning of one’s back on other’s suffering. Perhaps, one can begin to think, sadness is the truth.

As I walked, and prayed and thought, the sun set. The sky lit up in a glorious array of pinks and golds. It was startling and arresting. As I walked, I thought of one of my favorite poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins:

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

That night, the world was charged with God’s grandeur. As I walked, I realized that life is a tension of grief and joy. There is grief in the world, true darkness and true sadness. It is not to be denied, or swept under the rug, or quickly explained.  But in the same breath, there is glory permeating the very air we breath, the seasons that miraculously return every year, the gift of life. It is not a facade, but a deep down reality. Joy also is the truth.

Grief and Joy hold hands.

The sun sets in glory over every war torn battle field.

The Holy Spirit still broods with warm breast and bright wings.

And it is in this place that we live life.

This is advent.

During this time of the church year, advent is a season of the recognition of longing. In Advent we thank God that he came, vulnerable as we are, human, with bones that had the potential to be broken, eyes that could hold tears. So often, we skip to the part of the story where Jesus redeems us of our sins, and of course that is foundational. But let us not too quickly brush past the incredible reality that God came.

Isaiah 7:14 says “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Again and again, the coming savior is given this name: Immanual. And simply it means God with us. 

The profundity of the incarnation is not only justification, but the reality that God himself, the most powerful and most high, entered our broken world. He did not come to condemn, or to simply wipe away all that was injust with a flick of his mighty hand, but instead he came to Be with us in it. 

He entered our brokenness and our joy. He embraced our vulnerable flesh. He drank wine and laughed. He mourned his friends death. God is with us. 

Today as I sit, enjoying the gift of my snowy home, and yet praying for places of grief around the world, I ask God to teach me again the profundity of his incarnation.

In my joy, and in the world’s grief, God, through Christ is equally present. He validates and glorifies our grief and joy. And through his coming, we are offered the hope of his someday redemption. And in that, I realize that grief is not at the heart of the universe, but hope.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. or in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” Romans 8:22-25

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2 thoughts on “God With Us: Joy, Grief, and Hope

  1. Thank you Joy.
    I actually wept at this morning’s news, and then found myself singing part of an old hymn I have not heard in years. It begs of God, “How long? How long ere we sound the glad song? Christ returneth, Hallelujah!” Our aching world has such need of Him, but you are right, the signs of His presence are here, even amidst the sorrow, there are glimpses of His goodness to feed hope.
    Best wishes for a lovely time with your family.

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