What is this? For more information, read the introduction here.
Hope is the rarest of gifts in our time. It is hard to read the news or think about the state of the world without being challenged by feelings of hopelessness. The problems are so big – environmental, economic, social, political – and our collective ability and will to cope with them seems so inadequate. Like no generation before us, we are conscious of the crucial need to act to save the world, and the responsibility is crushing us. No wonder it is hard not to become burnt out, or cynical, or indifferent.
In the face of our responsibility, talk of hope can feel like an easy way out, like a cheap optimism that is no more than denial. As though we didn’t have to worry about the state of the world, because it’s not really that bad – or even, because Jesus will come back and bail us out of the mess we’ve made. This kind of optimism just leaves us in our complacency and inaction, and we ought to distrust it.
This easy optimism is not hope. In the Biblical understanding, hope is, quite simply, the insight that there is more future than we can see. We can reckon up the factors in any situation – in the state of the world, or of our own lives – and often, the chances don’t look good. Hope reminds us that there are always new possibilities to come, possibilities we cannot yet see. If we believe that God is alive and engaged and at work in the world, then we have to move beyond the closed circle of our calculations, and reckon with something more.
This kind of hope does not let us off the hook, as though we could leave it all to God. We are still on the spot to work and think and care and speak out with all our energy. Indeed, it is hope that first releases our energy, as it frees us from the paralysis of thinking we have to have all the solutions ourselves. It stirs us to a holy restless, a conviction that there is more to life than what the powers of this world offer us.
The tradition holds out that promise – a promise we celebrate in Advent – that in the end God will come and set all things right. In our present time, however, we would do well to look for God at work in less spectacular, but still powerful ways: as new possibilities being born in our midst. God’s Spirit is at work in the world in millions of men and women who stand up to the darkness by acts of compassion and defiance. God’s Spirit is at work in our lives in strangers and friends who may open new doors. The call of Advent is to wake up, open our eyes, see and share hope – and know that we are not alone.
Sunday November 27th
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
– Isaiah 64:1-3 (NRSV)
We begin with a cry of anguish from the prophet. Outraged and sickened by the injustice, violence, oppression and arrogance around him, he calls on God to rip open the very fabric of our world, and establish justice. It is a cry from the heart, and it invites us, in a society that demands rational, technical solutions for all our problems, to begin by articulating the anger, passion, outrage and longing in our own hearts.
O come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
This Advent devotional is intended to help you enter into the season of advent. We hope you enjoy it! Much thanks to the Rev. Paul Jennings for his help putting these reflections together.