Support me in keeping with Your promise, O God, so that I may live; do not let my hope turn into shame. Psalm 119:116
I’ve heard the jeers and hisses and curses against you. We listed our expectations and placed our demands on how you would be a year like no other. We made our promises about how our lives would be different this year. And then we drummed our fingers on imaginary tables and stared you down, waiting on you to deliver.
We broke our promises.
We revealed our brokenness in the process.
Tender 2020, what you indeed delivered was the reality that you hold no mystical power to keep us satisfied.
Instead, you gave us unexpected gifts.
Gifts like humility and quiet. Gifts like long-suffering and love.
Yes, 2020. You have given us a glimpse into a most unexpected Advent—a season many of us might overlook as we now wish you gone and replaced by something new. And yet, you are still here with us. Filled with unexpected things like hope, peace, joy, love, and the power of the presence of redemption.
2020, you remind me that hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is tenacious, gritty, at times fierce and upside down to reason.
You are like Tamar, an unexpected story of a most upside down hope.
She knew hope. She lived it. She was determined to hold on to it, even if every promise was broken to her. Even if if cost her everything.
Tamar wasn’t born to great pedigree. She was a Canaanite, an outsider grafted into a Jewish family tree through marriage to a dishonorable man. We don’t know what her husband Er did, but we do know that his actions were cause enough for him to be put to death by God Himself. Levitical law determined her Tamar’s fate, and she then married Er’s brother, Onan. He also was a man of dishonor, jealous at the thought of having children who could claim his brother’s birthright and power. His care for her became a game of seduction and shunning. And he, like his brother, was put to death.
Clinging to the broken branches of a family tree, Tamar held onto the hope of family and a future. She had been promised a destiny with yet another brother. But Judah, the patriarch who himself had married an outsider, the father who had already lost two sons to dishonor, saw Tamar as blight. He turned a blind eye to the promise—and to her.
And yet, Tamar could see the future. She could feel it cradled in her arms, listening to her heartbeat’s song. She could smell its sweet skin and listen to its soft coos. She knew there was a branch on the tree with her child’s name written on it. And though she couldn’t read the rest of the names, there was something in her mother’s heart that felt the divine destiny.
And so, she veiled her face and found Judah grieving. His losses were mounting. Two sons were dead, his wife had passed away, and his legacy felt frail and uncertain. He walked to the edge of the city, where he knew he could buy comfort without commitment. And Tamar was there, waiting.
Nine months later, she would give birth to twins. And centuries later, her bloodline would infuse the very humanity of Jesus. Yes, fully God/fully human Jesus would come from a family tree that included an outsider who chose to do the unthinkable, just to hold the future in her arms.
Hope is more than wishful thinking. Hope is tenacious, gritty, at times fierce and upside down to reason. She knew hope. She lived it. Even in the midst of promises broken, she was determined to hold on to it, even if if cost her everything.
I may find myself appalled by her decision. But I long to lay down fear of the “what if?” to the power of that hope she had.
And that brings me back to you, 2020. What if I laid down the fear, what if I rested in the power of the hope you’ve held out to us.
Jesus knew that hope, didn’t He? Unexpected hope, wrapped in a life that pleased some and caused others to shudder. A life that seemed contrary to the life we would expect for God robed in humanity. A life that had experienced a million broken promises made by well-intended souls, and yet a life that not only knew hope but WAS hope.
In Advent, we see that hope. And we are invited to welcome it. Thank you, kind 2020, for reminding us that there is a hope greater than any broken promises, there is a hope that will fight for us, there is a hope so unexpected—and true.
What does unexpected hope look like for you right now? What broken promises do you need to release? Where will hope take you in that freedom? How will that hope fight for you?
It wouldn’t be an unexpected Advent without a playlist. xoxo