Desperate Hope…Defiant Joy

Powerful words from very different sources have guided me to a deeper place on my Advent journey.

Tears of Desperate Hope 

The first word came from a friend in South Africa.  He’s a Methodist lay person, a leader in the business community, a white South African who was deeply engaged in the struggle against Apartheid.  Over the 25 years of our friendship, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the thrill of freedom in 1994 and his grave disappointment with the post-Mandela political leadership.

He would agree with Desmond Tutu who, reflecting on the current administration, said that because we believe in sin, we should not be surprised, but we may be disappointed.

Either ignored by the U.S. press or lost in the carnival of our Presidential nominating process has been any coverage of a political crisis centered around President Zuma’s actions which could have been a fatal blow to the economy.  My friend wrote:

We live in interesting times.  On Wednesday evening we were shocked and utterly dismayed….Zuma crossed a line in the most extraordinary way.  But people were galvanised, and everyone spoke out.

And this morning we woke up to an even more extraordinary turn of events!  Zuma has returned the respected former minister of finance to the position…It is an amazing defeat for Zuma…If the ANC insiders have managed to put such pressure on him, it will transform them in my mind from a weak set of thieves to the courageous guardians of the future we hoped for.  And it would transform this past week from marking when we finally went the way of Zimbabwe, to the moment we proved we are after all different.  And I would shift from shame and sorrow to immense pride and hope.  

Thank you for your prayers.  I write this with thick tears of desperate hope that the miracle may yet return.

I felt like I was reading one of the Old Testament prophets.  In the shifting currents of political corruption, economic disaster, and rampant injustice, they continued to pray, speak and work with “thick tear of desperate hope” for the miracle that would transform shame and sorrow into peace, justice, hope and joy.

The point of the liturgical season of Advent is not to get an early start on something we glibly call “the Christmas spirit.”  The purpose is to draw us into our deep, desperate need for the miracle of God’s love and grace that became flesh among us in Jesus.  We’ll never really understand the good news of Christmas until we shed some of those “thick tears of desperate hope.”

A Defiant Joy 

The second word came from my friend and colleague, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, the Senior Pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington, DC.

The Third Sunday of Advent is called Gaudate, the Latin word for “joy.”  The traditional readings include Paul’s words to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7) 

Ginger quoted Karl Barth, the most influential Christian theologian of the 20th Century, who did his theology in the tension surrounding Hitler’s rise to power.  Barth declared, “Joy is a defiant ‘Nevertheless’ that Paul sets like a full stop against the Philippian anxiety.”

The polls confirm that this Christmas finds us awash with fear.  Some of it is well-founded; some of it is brought on by what one NPR reporter called “the over-heated and irresponsible” rhetoric of our politicians.  Whatever the cause, our anxiety is as thick as egg nog.

We could deny the fear and use Christmas as an escape into a world where sugarplums dance in our heads.  But that would be an utter contradiction of the way the desperate hope of the prophets was fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

Joy is not a naive denial of what the world has come to, but a defiant confidence in what has come to the world.

Magrey deVega was in sync with Barth when he declared, “The church’s calling is one of melodic defiance. Our task is neither to fight nor to cower, but to sing.”  

On Christmas Eve we dare to lift our candles and sing our “defiant ‘Nevertheless.”

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

May the thick tears of Advent and the relentless joy of Christmas be alive in each of us.

Grace and peace,



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7 thoughts on “Desperate Hope…Defiant Joy

  1. And through my tears I say Merry Christmas and thank you.

  2. Charles Michael Smith December 17, 2015 — 5:17 pm

    Love your writings, Jim. They’re needed now more than ever. Charles

  3. Jim:

    Thanks for sharing. This one really touched me.


    Mark A. Hanley






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  4. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for this wonderful Christmas message, Jim. Merry Christmas to you and all of your family.

    Mimi Sturgell

  6. “Joy is not a naive denial of what the world has come to, but a defiant confidence in what has come to the world.” Amen, Jim!

    1. Jess: Thanks! Love following you and the family on FB. Merry Christmas.

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