A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.
The word “weary” has never felt quite so appropriate. We, as a nation, are weary. The bitter and lengthy 2016 election left most of us feeling war-torn, wandering around the rubble of a country that turned out to be a lot more divided than we may have realized. The election rattled most of us, even those who supported the winning candidate. We’ve spent the past year (at least) hurling insults and threats at each other, striving to paint a picture of death and destruction bigger and more disastrous than the other side was describing. In this war, it seems, there were no true winners, only casualties. In the aftermath of this grueling season, came another so unlike it: Advent. Advent asks us to remember many truths so contrary to the lies we’ve been tempted to believe throughout these recent months. In a number of ways, it’s the perfect antidote to the election season.Advent offers a counter-narrative that the U.S. church needs to reclaim: power often comes in weakness and hope in humility. Advent reorients our hearts to the totally upside-down understanding of power that the Son of God came to proclaim.
Christians celebrate Advent in various ways across different traditions and denominations, but the central idea is the same: Advent is a season of expectation and remembrance that pushes back against every human tendency to give into cynicism and doubt. We spend four weeks entering a posture of longing, remembering both the desperate aching of a fallen world and the faithful waiting of a people certain that their God will fulfill His promise to rescue, redeem, and restore. In the aftermath of an election that sought to foster fear and dread of an uncertain future, Advent functions as a means of fostering hopeful expectation. Our orientation to the future should be one of hope, because our God was faithful to come to our rescue and He will be faithful to come again.
Whether the threat was Iranian nuclear weapons or a liberal Supreme Court expanding abortion access and crushing religious freedom, the election painted a grim picture of our nation’s future. Every politician and party wanted to use fear and anxiety to motivate action against their opponent. Through powerful images and language, both parties sought to instill a fear of the other side. We were coaxed to let those anxieties shape our orientation to the future and motivate our decisions. Advent offers a stunningly opposite orientation that we so desperately need to recover post-election.
Through Advent, we acknowledge that our weariness is real and our situation even more dire than we realize. The hope fostered in this season doesn’t come in spite of our circumstances, but because of them. Advent reminds us that our weariness is a sign of a larger truth: this world is not our home. The darkness and depravity of the world around us are an ominous indication that we are in desperate need of a Savior. The 2016 election was certainly a reminder of how deeply and profusely sin has infiltrated our world and how much evil the depraved human heart is capable of.
Advent offers an alternative to both pessimistic fear-mongering and utopian progressivism. It refutes the narrative of ever-increasing social improvement, but it also refuses to declare all hope to be lost. Instead, it acknowledges the depths of our depravity while offering a hope both wildly undeserved and wholly sufficient. Advent prompts us to rediscover the robust Christian explanation for both the depths of depravity we experience all around us and the glimpses of righteousness we still see on this earth. When we enter into the celebration of Advent, we model an orientation to the world that both acknowledges its fallenness and seeks to work alongside God in His restoration of His creation.
One particular fear the election stoked among Christians was the perceived loss of cultural and political power of the U.S. church. For decades, Christians in this country have enjoyed a certain level of cultural acceptance and political clout that many fear is declining. Plenty of candidates capitalized or even fueled this fear, and the promise to regain this power was used to motivate voters. Advent offers a counter-narrative that the U.S. church needs to reclaim: power often comes in weakness and hope in humility. Advent reorients our hearts to the totally upside-down understanding of power that the Son of God came to proclaim.
Advent reminds us of a somewhat uncomfortable truth: after all that longing and waiting, our Savior came in a form that His people didn’t even recognize. Our salvation didn’t come in the form of military might or political power: our King came as a helpless baby. It was this unlikely manifestation of glory and power that confounded and confused religious elites of that day. Advent teaches us to be hopefully expectant while reminding us the answer to our longing and anticipation looks very different than we expect it to look. It reminds us our most desperate situation was met with a power that looked small and helpless to the very world He came to save. Focusing our hearts on the Savior who slept in a manger should remind us of how different our understanding of power (particularly political or social) should be. It’s difficult to reconcile this picture of power with a “take back America!” mentality. After a season of anxiously bemoaning the loss of “Christian values” in our society, Advent comes to remind us that our strength was never in political force or cultural acceptance.
Advent also offers a comforting reminder that our faith has weathered the ages. President-elect Trump’s campaign was unconventional and his victory fairly unexpected. Aspects of this election felt foreign to many political commentators and voters: it was the first time a woman was the nominee of a major party, it was the first time in recent history that someone with no political experience was elected to the presidency, it was one of the most divisive and inflammatory elections ever. The election as a whole was disorienting and left many Americans disillusioned. Practicing a tradition and remembering a season that has been practiced and remembered for thousands of years is a timely reminder that the history of our faith stretches back before our country’s existence. Like many other church traditions, it anchors us to a long history of Christians who came before us.
In an election season that exposed division within the U.S. church, Advent reminds us that we have more in common with each other than we do with those who share our political beliefs. It reminds us that our most treasured traditions come from outside our country and bind us to other believers across the globe. At a time when many Christians felt betrayed by the church and others felt unfairly criticized, Advent can be a healing as we remember what unites us was forged long before our political parties or affiliations. When we come together and commit to a communal posture of hope, it not only has the power to heal the division and bitterness in our midst—it serves as a powerful witness to a world that sees reconciliation after the election as impossible.
In this Advent season, “a thrill of hope” feels more necessary than ever. Desperate for hope, we sought it in platforms and politicians and received nothing but more weariness. Advent is the perfect balm for our weary hearts, because it reminds us that we serve a God who humbled Himself to come to save us once before, and He asks us to hope against all hope that He is coming again.