An Unmerry Hope

Been a long year, been a long year just kinda hanging on.

Been a long year, been a long year thinking the spark was gone.

There it is in the light. There it is in the falling white.

It finds me.

Andrew Ripp

I’m feeling thoroughly unmerry. I’m typing from the desk in my motel room on the southern edge of South Dakota and hearing a blizzard whip mockingly against the thin window. I am supposed to be advancing slides at my childhood church like I have since I was in high school, supposed to be kissing my nephew, supposed to be sleeping in my bed. I got a text late Tuesday night that my short, small flight to Denver was cancelled due to an incoming blizzard that would bring snow, 60mph winds, and no visibility. After checking the forecast for some neighboring states and checking other flight options, I decided to drive the thirteen hours back home overnight. Sometime in my first five hours, the storm path changed and I found myself with numb hands at the wheel from pulling it against the force of the wind for so long. Driving white-knuckled in the pitch black of night feels like a pretty appropriate end to the chaos that was 2020.


I don’t need to tell you the pain you’ve felt individually and that the world has felt collectively in the past year. We as a human species have endured grief, societal restructuring, and uncertainty on a global scale not likely ever seen before. COVID has been a global crisis, as well as a national and personal one. This past month has been a particularly dark one for me, with little specks of joy cropping up on wide fields of sorrow. Listening to Christmas carols, watching cheesy Hallmark movies, and hearing about joy and hope to the world has done little to tear down the walls of despair I feel looking out across the world. Underneath the chaos, tucked somewhere under that exceptional misery, there’s a quiet whisper calling out to Emmanuel – that God who is with us in our full complexity, who sits at the table as we drink ourselves drunk with merriment, who holds our hands in the silence of grief and longing.

The Message translation of Isaiah 9:2-7 begins this way: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows – light! sunbursts of light!… For a child has been born – for us! the gift of a son – for us!” In Peterson’s interpretation, the light, while great, is still only a burst, a brief break in the clouds for the people walking and living in the darkness. The hope of the baby in the manger is not predicated on our merriment. In fact, one of the first Christmases was spent clinging to the shadows, immigrants and refugees fleeing political warfare in the middle of the night. For Mary, Joseph, and a cooing, drooling Jesus, there is fear in Jesus’ birth. There is a clear and present danger. There is heartbreak, darkness, and mourning.

So as I sit in a stale-smelling motel, hoping I make it home for Christmas, I cling to the unmerriment of hope. I hold the tiny finger of an infant who has stepped down into the ugly world. I rest in an Emmanuel who isn’t afraid, isn’t offended by my lack of joy. As Andrew Ripp says, I am found by the spark of Christmas; it requires nothing from me. This Christmas, we remember the hope and the light that was given to us thousands of years ago in a dirty barn. We cling to some forlorn hope. We ask that an Emmanuel come and ransom the captives mourning in their exile.

She-ma yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad.

Bryce Van Vleet is the author of Tired Pages which can be purchased here. His second book will released this upcoming January. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Goodreads.

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Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.


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