What Does “Hope” Mean?
REV. JODI BARON – December 6, 2015 – Advent 2, Year C: Luke 3:1-6
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. By his coming give us strength in our conflicts and shed light on our path through the darkness of this world; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen
I am here before you this morning with a conflicted heart, as I’m sure many of you are as well. Conflicted because for some reason, every Advent, I find myself falling into the trap of thinking somehow life is supposed to be perfect for these four weeks leading up to the In-breaking of our God Incarnate, as we prepare for Christmas.
Some of those trappings come from the hype and circumstance of the season; with making lists, planning menus and get-togethers, re-arranging furniture, and cleaning off things that hold so many memories for us and haven’t been seen in at least a year. As soon as the first week of advent hits our house, Sufjan Stevens becomes a constant voice calling us to (as our Bishop said last week at our monthly clergy gathering) “shhhh, slow down, it’s Advent.”
We pull out our wreathe, our wooden Advent Calendar and holder for the pieces. We bring out the creche collection we’ve been acquiring our whole marriage: some from pre-earthquake Haiti, some from Peru, somefrom Yonkers in Marquette, MI and some from The Bridge in downtown Holland.
Our children begin to play with the scenes and ask questions about who each character is all to promptly transform them into characters in their elaborate play-world, whether that’s Star Wars, Legos, or Orphan Annie.
And for a moment, my heart is filled with a sense of renewal. That maybe, just maybe, this year will be different. There will be more peace, less violence, more education, less hunger, more time, less illness. things will be healthy and whole.
So I suppose it’s rather normal and not all that uncommon, then, for a bit of jolting to happen when reality stops the record and we are pulled out of our nostalgia and thrust into the reality of the days we find ourselves in. At least, that’s what happens with me.
This past year has been met with too much suffering on the part of those I love and care about. I can’t even count how many people I know who are carrying more than their lifetime share of grief…, suffering…, and pain…. And those are just the people I know by name!
Like Jen mentioned last week, it’s not just imaginary that our prayers are including new communities afflicted by war, violence, famine, or unimaginable fear, each week we gather here for prayer.
And now, in addition to the communities we add each week, we are finding ourselves needing to specifically include more and more professions to our prayers of the people… whose daily work it is to protect us… who are being asked to do more than their share. The military, Police Officers, and now, perhaps, even Teachers.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of commentary, I’m sick of opening up the news and reading about another mass shooting, more senseless acts of violence, more lives disrupted by wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life.
But, we can’t think that by simply talking about this we can actually change anything. It may give us a little to think about, maybe in a slightly different way, but this, in and of itself not the full potential of what we as Christians are called to do, be, and change in the world around us.
As Christians, we are called to be a people of Hope. But what does that look like…what does hope look like for the victims of gun violence… of war…
“Hope” is not an emotion, as author Brené Brown writes in her book, “Gifts of Imperfection.” It’s a way of thinking born from the experience of struggle. Which indicates, to me, that it is something that requires cultivation and intention. Especially in this day and age when despair and cynicism are definitely more readily available. But how do you cultivate a virtue like hope when every couple of days we read about more and more deprivation?
Suffering, pain, war, violence, famine, fear.
These are not new experiences of the human condition. If we were only to spend the next few weeks walking through our own tradition’s account of human misery, we would have our work cut out for us.
This is part of the comfort and solace our community of faith is allowed to take in in times like this. That we are indeed not alone, nor the first to go through this.
Take for instance, the reading we had this morning from Baruch. Baruch was a friend and secretary of the prophet Jeremiah and was believed to be in Babylonia with the Israelites during the Babylonian Exile.
The interesting thing I find about this inclusion of an apocryphal text during Advent, in conjunction with Luke’s song of Zechariah, and the introduction of John the Baptist’s ministry, is that, despite all that is going on around these people…all the oppressive leadership, war, famine, violence, being ripped from their homes and deported to a foreign land for at least 70 years, despite all that…they maintained their religious identity as God’s chosen. They didn’t do this in isolation, however. They did this through a commitment to their community.
One source said that,
Elders supervised the Jewish communities, and Ezekiel was one of several prophets who kept alive the hope of one day returning home. This was possibly also the period when synagogues were first established, for the Jews observed the Sabbath and religious holidays, practiced circumcision, and substituted prayers for former ritual sacrifices in the Temple.
In other words, they kept employing the tools they were given, to put one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, and do those things their communities knew how to do to draw closer to God…they kept praying, fasting, and reading scripture in community.
So much in this world is out of our control, isn’t it?
On a macro level, the world-wide violence…
On a micro level, job-security, long term illness, birth, death…
Much of the pain caused by being alive is due to the fact that we are all connected. We hurt only when we love something or someone deeply.
And to love is a part of our created essence, because God is love…we are images of that love… the imago dei… and are called to love one another.
This week was one of those weeks for me. I opened my news feed I read the news… looked at facebook, or listened to the radio, and post after post, article after article I was inundated with either the vitriol of folks debating gun violence, the refugee crisis, or global terrorism…or folks who were posting things that had nothing to do with what was going on.
Both were too much for me. Both led me to dark, dark places about humanity, my role as a faith leader in times like these, and my hopes for all of our children and for their futures.
So when I read through this morning’s lessons, introducing the ministry and mission of John the Baptist, I realized that what I needed to do was to take myself to a different place.
Not burry my head in the sand, so to speak, but rather to employ tried and true practices that many Christians have employed to guide them through these dark hours our world is experiencing.
I needed to fast, and pray, and lament, and read from saints gone before. I needed to cleanse my thoughts and my heart of the confusion that worldly events were threatening to rob me of my hope for humanity, God’s good creation.
These are the birth pangs that the Gospel lessons had been leading us to be attentive to as Advent approached. These are the things about which John spoke of needing to take place in order for the Son of Man to appear.
These things produce in us a prophetic longing, a hope, one that casts our eyes to the rising sun that comes up from the east and from where our salvation comes.
A longing that pulls us out of our heads and orients our hearts to reflect upon the kingdom that God is about establishing here on earth.
A longing that dares to hope for the day when the Lion and the Lamb will indeed lie down together, in peace, when the mountains will be leveled and the valleys risen up and the paths made straight.
“Be not afraid” is what God whispers to his people, time and time again. Through prophets and sages, angels, and his beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
“Be not afraid.”
I wanted to share this prayer with you from a resource a friend of mine from seminary helped to put together and of which many of my colleagues from Seminary of the Southwest are featured in:
(The resource is called Journey Toward Home: Soul Travel From Advent to Lent) I call it “Breathe!” and it is from the 2nd week of Advent and is part of my prayer for us.
In this season of waiting,
breathe in life.
Life of the One
who created all things,
whose image we bear.
In this season of waiting,
breathe in love.
Love of the One
who gave a precious Son
to live as one of us.
In this season of waiting,
breathe in peace.
Peace of the One
who calmed the sea
and quiets the tumult of our souls.
In this season of waiting
breathe in hope.
Hope that the One
for whom we wait
is indeed making all things whole.
-Christine Sine in A Journey toward Home: Soul Travel from Advent to Lent