A few weeks ago I had a miscarriage. Not as awful as it sounds; I've been prepared for some time with the knowledge that I cannot bear children – I did my grieving long ago.
I mention it only because it did something very strange to me. It reminded me of the pain of hope. Advent hope is an oft spoken of theme; we talk of God’s people waiting for God’s promises to come true; we talk of a people waiting with expectation and hope for the time when their suffering would cease; we talk about Elizabeth and Zechariah, who were given a new hope for a child, long after they thought it was possible; we talk of the people walking in darkness who saw a great light. We talk of this wondrous feeling of hope that gets us through the dark and difficult days. Because at the end of all this waiting, there is a baby.
My own experience caused me to stop, and question for a moment. What about those for whom there isn’t a baby at the end of all the waiting? What about those waiting for that which will never come? What about those whose wait will end in bitter disappointment? Because it’s true, isn’t it, that as we celebrate the joy of Christmas, we often gloss over the bittersweet truth. The truth that for some, the lights will be taken down, the tree packed away and the wrapping recycled, and all that will be left is emptiness. The truth that the birth of Christ is a story not without tragedy, for as the baby was born, so a plot was being made to kill all the boys in Bethlehem under the age of two.
During Advent I cannot hide from the fact that at the end of my wait, there will never be a baby. Not for me. And so I think perhaps, as we work up to the joy of Christmas, I want to suggest that we don’t forget that sometimes hope is painful, hope leads to disappointment, and un-fulfilment. And perhaps sometimes it’s okay to voice that.