When Hope is a Smoldering Wick

by FCS on

FCS staff is sharing reflections on Hope this Advent season as we await the birth of the Christ child. Our first piece is by Shawn Duncan, our Director of Education & Training. 

When I opened the email asking me to contribute a post for our Advent series on the theme of hope, my reactions was, well, not very positive. All I could think was, “Seriously? Could you pick a worse day and a worse person to ask to write about hope?!”

I confess to you that I am personally not in a place where “hope” characterizes my perspective on the world nor my attitude toward others. So what do I feel?

Doubt? That’s kind of close. Despair? Closer, but that’s still not quite it.

If I had to name my current state of being, the most accurate word I can come up with is powerlessness.


Within just the last week, I have faced the painful realities of - to name just a few - terrorism, the juvenile justice system, refugee resettlement, mass incarceration, the death penalty, immigration reform, systemic and interpersonal racism, education reform, homelessness…..I’ll stop there.

But here’s the thing, I don’t feel powerless simply because these problems exist. If there was agreement on the problems and a collective commitment to do something, my heart would be surging with hope. The problem is that I feel as if every meaningful attempt to respond redemptively is met either by deliberate resistance or an unwillingness to engage - both within the society at large and the church.

This is why I need Advent. When I say “need” here, I don’t mean it like the “I need a cup of coffee.” I need it in the way that a flower withers without the sun. My spirit needs the liturgies of Advent.

Here’s why.

God put on flesh and moved into a world that knew the violence of extremists, that saw grave social injustice, that wrongly imprisoned people, that rejected the healthcare needs of the economically disadvantaged, that justified xenophobic fears….I’ll stop there.

Not only that, Jesus stepped into a world where the people - both those within and outside of the people of God - were either actively engage in resisting change or simply disengaged from the problems.

If I were alive then I would have had wanted a join with a Jesus who took total and complete control of the world. Build a kingdom, establish the world’s greatest military. Vanquish quickly and resoundingly any and all threats to freedom. Protect the innocent. Care for every single sick and hungry person. Give every person opportunity to provide for their families and thrive. I would have wanted take part in a revolution led by a Jesus that would overthrow all governments and by force take control of the world to lead it in righteousness, freedom, justice, and peace. I would have jumped at the chance to help a Jesus who would purge the religious systems of their compromises and build a people who followed God in all faithfulness.

That is what I want now. And I am not getting it.

Bombs still go off in public places. Refugees are still rejected. The innocent still perish. Prisons are still outpacing schools. Racial biases still plague our communities. People - religious and nonreligious alike - still work against the implementation of solutions. People - religious and nonreligious alike - still refuse to get involved.

I feel powerless when our all-powerful God is not making all things new.

At least not in the way that I want God to do it.

This is why I need Advent. I need to be reminded that Jesus changes the world through sacrificial love, not retributive violence. I need to be reminded that Jesus changes the world through small acts of great love, not big displays of great power. I need to be reminded that hope is found in the transformative nature of yeast and mustard seeds, not in the destructive power of armies and kingdoms. I need to be reminded that the world - secular and religious alike - will always offer a cross to those that call for sacrificial love, justice for the oppressed, and the renewal of the world.

Advent restores my hope that one can enter the world in quiet, small ways and participate in God’s renewal.

My hope, today, is but a smoldering wick. I need the Advent narrative to gently breathe it back to flame, rekindling in me the hope of a Kingdom, though not yet fully here, that is coming and continues to come when we gently put flesh on love and let it walk around in our neighborhood.

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