Joy in longing

As we sit in a place of longing, Emma Pittman reminds us that amongst the anguish there is joy and hope.


Emma Pitman is a writer from Sydney. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Lifted Brow and Meanjin. She is an ADM 2019 Creative Fellow, and is currently working on a collection of essays that explore gender, power and hope.

Joy in longing

Joy and hope can be found as we remember and trust the promises of God.

Daily Reading Luke 1:39-56

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

I have come to realise that without the hope that comes from my faith, I could not continue to face injustice.

If I didn’t believe that one day, every structure that has set itself up in opposition to God’s kingdom would fall; if I didn’t trust that in God’s time,
every structure that divides and classifies God’s children based upon their gender, their race, their class, their abilities and their sexuality would tumble; I would struggle to remain hopeful and engaged. I feel blessed to have this faith. Trusting God gives me sustaining hope and joy, even before God delivers.

I think Elizabeth and Mary had this kind of faith, this kind of joy.

At first, it seems that their fierce joy was sparked by their circumstances. Both pregnancies were miraculous. Elizabeth was old, and had been unable to conceive. She had longed for a child and her heart’s desire was coming to pass. Mary was a virgin, chosen by God to bear his son and bring a saviour into the world. Though there was much uncertainty as Mary and Joseph became refugees and fled King Herod’s oppression, Mary knew just how blessed she was. Bringing the Saviour into the world and raising him from a child to a man, was a unique honour.

It is fascinating to reflect on why they were chosen. In her song, Mary says that her soul glorifies the Lord and her spirit rejoices. Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” Their joy preceded the miracles, because trusting God is, in itself, a blessing. Elizabeth is telling us that we are blessed when we believe the Lord will fulfil his promises.

It is possible to feel joy in longing, in the anticipation of God delivering on promises. Even as I long for justice on the earth, I feel a steady, quiet joy when I trust that it is coming, simply because God said it would. I find joy when I reflect on the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom Jesus speaks of: a kingdom where the humble are lifted up, where the first will be last and the last will be first, where those who have been poor, oppressed and pushed to the margins are restored to their place at Jesus’ side, as they were when he walked the earth. I imagine a kingdom where the ground is even and all are valued for their true identity as children of God.

When we trust God’s promises, we recognise that our world cannot be restored without God. This also means that it’s a burden we cannot carry alone. God’s promises give us strength, but also humble us. I am not the star of God’s redemption arc; I am not the protagonist: Jesus is.

I find joy not just in victory, but in trusting that God will deliver it. Mary and Elizabeth didn’t know exactly what was coming, but they were blessed because they trusted God’s promises, and remembered God’s mercy.

Mary finishes her song by declaring:

“He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”

We must remember and trust God’s promises, because there is joy and sustaining hope when we do.

We Are Longing: An Advent series from Common Grace