Things aren’t always what they appear to be. How often have we heard such words, sometimes as warning and sometimes as hope, depending upon how it is that things appear at the given moment.
Today’s readings are Micah 4:8-13, a text which gives bad news but promises that it will not be the final word; Isaiah 11:1-9, the familiar vision of a just and beautiful order yet to come; and Luke 7:31-35, a complaint by Jesus over people who have lost their capacity to discern things by God’s way of reckoning.
It is so easy to be caught up in the moment. We see what is and react as though it is the only moment we will have. If it is a joyful moment, we want to hang on to it as long as possible, believing that life should always be as carefree and exuberant as it is at the height of the party. If the moment is disastrous, we can fall into despair, perhaps being temporarily aroused by an invitation to hope, but being too overwhelmed by loss to imagine the real possibilities of gain. How can we know what sort of attitude to adopt in our temporal experiences of either great joy or great sadness? What sort of confidence should we allow ourselves that the final word is a good word? How shall we know whether to consider the good moments as filled with the promise of more like them, only better, or as momentary respite in a world of pain and confusion? How can we be assured that the afflictions of life are indeed momentary rather than permanent?
The promise of Advent is the lens through which we are learning the proper attitude toward all of life. The personal entry of God into human flesh and life carries with it the promise of fulfillment, in spite of appearances. Things may look bleak; but if God is in the midst of the bleakness, hope can never be far from sight.
This promise is far more easily repeated than it is embraced when life seems to come unglued. We’ve been disappointed by forces well beyond our control, we’ve been left alone by those we’ve trusted, we’ve seen our cherished ways of life disintegrate around us, and sometimes we’ve been most disappointed in our own failures to walk in the ways of Christ to which we’ve committed ourselves. Through each of these paths enters a darkness that seems unbroken by any coming dawn. It’s in these moments, when we are most tempted to allow despair to rule that we should turn to the Scriptures again and read the whole story, one that tells us to expect troubles, trials, tribulations—but to expect redemption from them to come by the person and power of Christ.
People do walk in darkness; but the great light they have seen as followers of Christ shines through at just the right time. And the longer it seems to linger just below the horizon, the more brightly it will shine when the daylight blazes with joy. This is the Word of the Lord; He has spoken it. He has come; He will come again. Don’t allow your vision to be clouded over before it happens.