There is a weight in this waiting. It is a blanket thrown over us, a downwards pressure that roots us where we stand. It is a shadow, a burden of darkness. It is the gravity of our weakness. Of our frail humanity. And yet… and yet it is not desperation. It is not despair. Unaccountably, it is hope.
In the deepest of shadows, on the darkest of nights, in the valley of our fears, the weight that bears down on us is hope. How can this be? Where does such unexpected treasure spring from?
It springs, in history, from a story of the Jews. A deep story, ancient in progeny. A story that has moved from event to legend and from legend to faith; that has shaped a nation and, through that nation, many others. It is a story of a slave people on the darkest night of their souls, and of their deliverance. Their exodus arising not from amongst them but from beyond them, from a God who chooses on his own initiative to save them. This is the hope that tells us, when our prison door is locked, when we have at last come to see that nothing we can do will open it, when the darkness is so complete we are all but extinguished by it, that rescue is coming. We cannot open the door, but someone else can. Someone outside. With a key. Someone who can overcome, on our behalf, the forces that have left us here to rot.
This is the hope that becomes, in the story of Elizabeth and Mary, of Zechariah, of the shepherds and kings, the miracle of incarnation. The birth of Jesus is not an event that arises from us but an event that is fulfilled for us. It is the turning of the key in a lock we thought forgotten; the opening of a door we feared forever slammed.
I have felt the weight of this waiting more acutely than usual this year. Living in France, where we are approaching the one-month anniversary of a terrible event, I have sensed fear growing. The world, since the evening of November 13th, has taken several steps more deeply into darkness. And yet there is this weight. This hope. This sense that even in the depths of our poverty – especially in the depths of our poverty – a different outcome is possible. The weight of waiting that settles on us and then, oddly, seems to lift a great weight from us. He will come. There is a kingdom that will overwhelm all other kingdoms. There is a peace, and it has a prince.
Incarnation is not about your faith. It never has been. It is not about what you believe, or what you can achieve. It is all about you, in the sense that it is for you, but at the same time it is nothing whatsoever to do with you. That’s why the poor understand it best. That’s why this Good News is weighted towards the desperate, is received gladly by the dispossessed. That’s why those who have nothing hear the whisper of rescue: precisely because it comes not from us but for us. God is coming. He will split the sea. He will rescue, and save. And there isn’t a single thing you can do to stop him. You can but wait, and in your waiting feel the great weight of his presence and promise, and give thanks.