We sometimes like to ridicule the characters from the Bible for not “getting it” about Jesus. “How could they miss something so obvious?” we say. The politically and economically oppressed Israelites learned and quoted the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah and hoped for a tangible revolution, an overthrow of the Roman government—a political hero like Spartacus or Braveheart or Guy Fawkes. What they got instead was a baby, conceived out of wedlock and born in a barn, and they didn’t “get” it. An angel appeared to Joseph, an angel appeared to Mary, and a host of angels appeared to some shepherds in a field. Clear enough, right?! So why wasn’t everyone at peace on the very day that Jesus was born? Why didn’t they get it?

Today we tend to approach the scriptures about the birth of Christ with a smugness born of hindsight about how clueless everyone was “back then.” How silly of them to read Isaiah’s words that “the government will be on his shoulders” and try to apply that literally to the Romans! How shortsighted. How ignorant. Right? But wait a minute. Isaiah also said a bunch of other things about a child, about a descendant from David, about a virgin conceiving and giving birth to a son (see Isaiah 7, 9). And those things were literal in their fruition. Hmm. Maybe their expectations weren’t so laughable after all.

I myself have enjoyed a laugh or two at the expense of Jesus’s followers in the New Testament—usually Peter, I’ll admit. Peter seems always to be bumbling, whether he’s telling Jesus he’s wrong about the prediction regarding Jesus’s own crucifixion (Matt. 16:21–23) or he’s confused about the significance of foot-washing and Jesus’s servanthood (John 13:6–9) or he’s arrogantly claiming that he will never betray Jesus—which, of course, he then does later that very night (Matt. 26:33–35; 69–75).

My favorite example of this nature, though, is one that implicates the apostles as a group, rather than singling anyone out: In Matthew 16, the disciples forget to take bread on a boat journey across a lake. Jesus chooses this time—perhaps because of a rumbling stomach, perhaps not—to warn the disciples to “be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (v. 6). Maybe because their stomachs are growling so loud their brains cannot process metaphors right now (I know I’ve been there), the disciples rather selfishly internalize this warning and say, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread” (v. 7). Because of what comes next, this response from the disciples always makes me laugh out loud. In the next few verses (8–11), Jesus effectively rakes them over the coals for their persistent lack of understanding and their short memories of the bread-related miracles Jesus has already performed.

Distinguishing between the literal and the figurative, though, seems to be the repeating struggle of all readers of Scripture ever since Moses came down off Mt. Sinai with the tablets. And one of our purposes for scriptural interpretation is often to derive comfort or hope or guidance.

And yet this year, for the first time in my life, I feel more in tune with the confused of the biblical ages than with those of us today who look back on the Bible with the gift of perfect hindsight.

Our country is divided and angry. The church is divided and angry. The world is in turmoil. Even though my itty-bitty life is going pretty well, it feels as if God is staying awfully silent on the grand scale. There are people fleeing war; there are people dying of preventable illnesses; there are people starving; there are people searching and not finding; there are people being excluded, hated, judged, persecuted.

And where is our hope? In an eternity we can’t yet grasp? In a somewhere-up-there-far-away God who left this earth long ago and hasn’t yet returned?

When I look at it this way, I feel a little more connected to the Israelites who may not have felt particularly hopeful about or comforted by a baby in a barn. I believe with absolute certainty that God will restore and reconcile God’s own creation—one day.

I believe with absolute certainty that God will restore and reconcile God’s own creation—-one day.

But right now, today, when I’m reading report after report of bombings and attacks in Aleppo, Syria; when children and innocent civilians are losing their lives for no reason at all; and when the question of whether to welcome these desperate, fleeing human beings into other countries, including our own, becomes more of a political firestorm than a conversation about loving and caring for those who need it most—I’m at a loss to derive any great comfort from the thought of “one day.”

For me, it is in these moments of hopelessness and helplessness and fear and utter disbelief that the Holy Spirit whispers in my heart, “This is Advent.”