1st Sunday of Advent
May the God of Hope fill you with all Joy and Peace in believing, so that you may abound in Hope by the Holy Spirit. ~ Romans 15:13
Hope…such a short, soft sounding word. Yet, it is so ambiguous.
Emily Dickinson wrote in a poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.
Former Harvard religion professor Peter Gomes comments, “Rather than the hope of organized good cheer, Dickinson’s image offers an elusive, fleeting clarity, vividly vague, as it were, that endures in the most intimate of spaces and never gives up.” Like love, hope endures in our souls and in our hearts. God is love (1 John 4:16) and God is hope (Romans 5:13) yet hope and love can be elusive.
So how do we live with hope and not ignore the reality of the often harsh, unforgiving world that we live in? Henri Nouwen writes, “The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.” Do we live in hope that something good, something wonderful is on the way?
Last Monday, Jennifer and I went to the Pagosa Hot Springs for a day of rest and renewal. While soaking in the tubs, I listened. One couple was talking about the expense of flying their family of four to San Diego to see the husband’s mother at Christmas. “We can’t afford that every year,” exclaimed the wife. “She can come see us!” I thought to myself, “Family dynamics are always complex and financial stress is tough as well.”
Another man was trying to figure out how they would have time for a spring trip to Moab and then make it to their children’s school activities. As he talked on and on, his wife’s eyes glazed over. “Can’t we just enjoy this day?” she seemed to say as she drank another Corona. It is hard to stay in the present, isn’t it?
Jennifer and I moved to another hot tub where there was a large family from Texas, my home state. Grandpa, who was wearing a ten-gallon black hat, was chasing his granddaughter down the sidewalk. He yelled, “Quit running!” She froze in terror. “Oh man, I thought. I’ve lost my patience quite a few times.”
His other granddaughter was in the hot tub taking selfies to send to her friends back home. Mom and Dad disappeared somewhere as grandma and grandpa were trying to corral all the grandkids. Even though everyone was a stranger at the hot springs, we were living, in many ways, the same lives.
Hope and peace seemed to be floating down the San Juan River outside the Pagosa Hot Springs.
We moved to another hot tub where a young father was talking softly to his son. “Now, I need you to listen to me. When you play with your brother and your sister you need to be respectful to them. No pushing or hitting. Can you do that for Daddy?” “Yes.” “If you treat them with kindness, they’ll treat you with kindness.” “O.K.” Dad gave his son a hug and said, “Now, you can go play, but I’ll be watching you.” The little boy walked off to play. I thought, “Wow. What a gracious but firm father.” He was modeling and teaching his young son to “walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love,” as MLK Jr. said. Hope was born there in a Bethlehem moment.
We have moments when we get frustrated, lose patience, and get irritated with one another. It’s part of life. But do we also experience moments that saturate us in the way of Christ’s peace and grace? Moments that give us a “hope that does not disappoint us,” (see Romans 5:5)?
Many of us know the sting of death well, times when grief and despair weigh heavy, and it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Hope is but a distant dream. After the unexpected death of a family member, I was numb, unable to move. Sharon Day, a member of our church showed up at our front door. It was a sacred moment. She wrapped her arms around me and cried with me. “I’m sorry,” she said. Sharon was the “hands and feet of Christ” to me. Her love started the long healing process, and hope was born. Peter Gomes writes, “Hope is the stuff that gets us through and beyond when the worst that can happen happens.” The love and grace of God sustains us through the darkness and offers hope that does not disappoint us.
Christ calls us to live in hope which is a challenge considering the reality of the world we live in together. However, we can celebrate life with all its beauty and goodness, and we can face our despair and struggles as one. Together we can find hope in a manger, a star, a young couple, three wise people. We can discover hope in a young father’s or mother’s patience and a heartfelt hug. Hope does not deny reality but realizes that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it,” (John 1:5).
Henri Nouwen wrote, “There is an old expression that says, ‘As long as there is life there is hope. As people of faith we also say, ‘As long as there is hope there is life.’”
Blessings, peace, and hope to all of you,