In the Christian calendar, churches around the world are today celebrating the initial Sunday of Advent. It is most fitting that the traditional theme of this first of four Sundays before Christmas is “Hope.” If there ever was a time in recent memory when we need hope, it is surely 2020. We certainly hope for a vaccine in these next months to lift the omnipresent burden of COVID. We look with hope to new world leadership from Washington to relieve the oppressive burden of belligerence and bring greater stability and compassion to governance. With hugs, we hope to re-unite with daughters and sons and grandchildren again, and remove the painful burden of separation.
When I preach on Advent One, I often use an acronym: H.O.P.E.
HARDSHIP: The Bible refers to “hope” 186 times. Its Hebrew language translation (pronounced teek vah in the Older Testament) typically refers to that hope which would lift a burden, like the ones described above. In other words, one turns to hope in the face of hardship. It is not about hoping to win the lottery, re-grow a full head of hair or run a four-minute mile. Those are fanciful wishes, but not born of hardship.
OPTIMISM: There is little point in hoping unless one believes in the possibility of a burden being lifted. We are optimistic about a pending vaccine, the new US Democratic leadership and seeing our distant families in person, no longer just via zoom or face time. If we are guided exclusively by pessimism, it leaves little room for hope. As a wartime leader facing the darkest of times, Winston Churchill noted:
“The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity;
the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
PRAYER: This third component of hope becomes more challenging in the Advent season of 2020. Cases of COVID are currently increasing across Grey/Bruce Counties. I recently received official notification from the church where I worship that today will be the last in-house service for a while. I must return to church by desk top. Can one pray without church? Obviously, the answer is a resounding YES. “Church” is the people, not the building. We can still assemble together, spiritually speaking, and pray—in faith believing.
My non-Christian friends are undoubtedly sending “good thoughts” to the universe, hoping for relief from the common burdens they also carry with us in these difficult times.
ENJOYMENT: Eckard Tolle popularized the phrase about learning to live “in the now.” Hope always involves dreams and prayers not yet achieved. Instead of waiting passively for that day to come, we are reminded that joy and pleasure can still be found in daily life. Do we have eyes to witness that flaming red, November Lake Huron sunset, ears to hear the inspiring fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony? Do we notice little children delighting in their first serious snowfall of December or watch that elderly couple walking unsteadily, but lovingly and supportively together along the Boardwalk on a rare warm Autumn afternoon?
We can each find our own restorative sustenance for the soul to lighten the burdens we all carry over this exceptional year of 2020. In this season of Advent, the line from that old hymn, Great is They Faithfulness, still reminds and reassures us: