I was on my way to church; clerical collar in place around my neck and a prepared sermon in my head. After backing the car out of its sheltered resting place and into last Sunday’s freezing rain, I used my handy remote to shut the yellow garage door. At least I tried to shut it. My remote refused to obey. That’s when I figured the electrical power was off in my town. No church service and I was left with a message that no one would hear. This week I have decided that at least somebody might read it.
In the Christian church year, the four Sundays before Christmas comprise the season of Advent, a time of anticipating and preparing for the birth of Jesus. The theme for December 1 was “Hope,” a word which appears 186 times in the Bible. In the Older Testament (the Jewish Bible) “hope” —Heekvah in the Hebrew language– is typically used as a response when the Jewish people were experiencing some historical hardship.
Around 600 BCE, many of their families were carried of to exile in Babylon, to remain there, yearning and hoping to return home. These hopes and prayers were finally realized when Cyrus, the Greek warrior, liberated the Jews from captivity in 539 BCE. The restored Jewish nation later would wait in hope for their promised Messiah who would free them one day from the heavy hand of Roman occupation. In the New Testament, hope is fulfilled in the person, life and death of Jesus, the Christ.
In our contemporary usage of the word, “hope” can also be used when referring to wishful thinking. I hope to win the lottery; I hope to live to 125; I hope winter will be over by February. But how often in our lives have we more seriously relied on hope to deliver us, like the ancient Jewish people or the early Christian community, from some heavy oppression: perhaps a terrible illness, a difficult relationship, the hardship of unemployment, a relentless addiction, the pain of a broken dream?
The season of Advent offers us an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and place of hope in our own lives. Seeing that word as an acronym may help us to do so.
Hardship: As we consider the year soon drawing to an end or contemplate the months ahead, can we dare hope that some adversity in our lives will be overcome?
Optimism: Attitude can affect outcome. While we accept that change requires the right formula of strenuous effort, good luck, helpful resources and use of problem-solving skills, the attitude with which we face adversity can sometimes become a factor in determining success or failure.
Prayer: It has been said that fervent prayer can move mountains. While this assertion may be somewhat hyperbolic, prayer does play a critical role in the life journeys of people of faith when hardship assails them. Even those who self-describe as spiritual, rather than religious, seek to invoke the energy of the universe through meditation, hoping to bring about some needed change.
Enjoy: Even when beset by hardship, many courageous folks have learned to find pleasure and enjoyment in the midst of their challenges. In fact, life’s difficulties can help redirect our focus to appreciate the simpler things of life, the gift of each new day, the sparkle of snow, the laughter of a grandchild, the warmth of a fireplace, the companionship of a good book.
Each Advent season the Christian community symbolically once again awaits the birth of Jesus. Each church has now arranged its creche scene, complete with the manger and its farm animals, Mary and Joseph and then the baby himself, as Luke’s gospel tells us —wrapped in swaddling clothes.”
Even the most skeptical doubter can be caught up in the mystery of the Christmas season, with its message of giving, gathering and gratefulness. In doing so, each of us can bring a small measure of that much-needed hope to our troubled world.