“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.” S.J. Watson
The prophet Micah speaks of the agony and the anguish of the Israelites as their city was invaded, their temple desecrated, their sons and daughters dragged off into captivity, their status altered from “God’s chosen people” to “prisoners” and “slaves.”
For many it seemed like the end – of their freedom, of their identity, of their story – as their enemies celebrated and gloated over their suffering.
Yet Micah likens the pain that gripped them to that of the pangs of labour: a beginning rather than an end; a moment of immeasurable suffering bringing forth an eternity of new life and indescribable joy.
This is the heart of the Good News: when things look grave and all hope is gone,
God does the unexpected
… the unimagined
… the impossible.
A shepherd boy brings down a giant with just a sling and a stone….
A prostitute and a foreigner become part of Jesus’s ancestry ….
Water is transformed into wine at a wedding and a few loaves and fishes into a feast for five thousand ….
The crucified Christ appears to his grieving disciples as the Risen Lord ….
And, indeed, with hindsight and the help of history books we see that the Babylonian kingdom fell as prophesied; and the Persian and the Greek and the Roman ….
Recall a time in your life when it seemed like all was lost or that God was distant.
In hindsight, where was God in the midst of your pain and suffering?
Were there any “gifts” that you might not have received if you had not gone through this “time of labour?”
How has this experience impacted your relationship with and picture of God?
It can be disheartening to witness all of the wars, the misery, the suffering and death that accompany shifts in power and changes in our natural world.
It can be even more debilitating to experience the pain of loss in our own lives – be it a job, a loved one, a home, an aspect of our health, or an ability.
The gift of Advent in these devitalizing moments is a hope that is founded neither on wishful thinking nor unrealistic expectations of what it means to have God present and active in our lives, but on the creative, transformative faith which develops between hindsight and foresight.
Hindsight helps us to remember and trust the God who has been faithful in our past experiences of suffering and distress, who has brought light into the darkness and order into the chaos in our time of need.
Foresight enables us pray for that which God has promised and to work, with God, towards the justice, the forgiveness, the peace, the healing that we long for.
Babylon will fall. That which seems to have power over us will fade away. The simpler, pleasure-filled lives that we sometimes envy (and even pursue) will end in woeful lament, even as God personally gathers up the lame, the exiled, and the grieving.
What is the gift that you most long for from God today?
Are there any powers, any addictions, any habitual sins that need to fall in your life?
How might you act more from the creative space between hindsight and foresight rather than relying on how you are feeling or what is happening in a particular moment?