Hope is a word that Christians use often. It can be used as a noun or a verb and gives the image of desire and anticipation. One synonym often used for hope is expectation, but to expect has a sense of some amount of certainty and imminence that hope doesn’t always convey. We hope when we don’t know if or when something will happen. Sometimes we hope against hope for things to occur; we rarely expect against expectation.
Our theme for Advent this year is All Earth is Hopeful, drawn from the hymn of that name in the red ELW. In the tradition of the Advent wreath, the candle lit on the first Sunday in Advent is the Hope candle, as we reflect on the hope we have in Jesus. Hundreds of years before his birth, Old Testament prophets wrote words of hope about the coming Messiah, and Jesus left us with promises to one day return. Advent is about to remembering those many years of hope and anticipation prior to his coming to Earth and our hope for him to come again.
I don’t know about you, but I could use a good helping of hope right now. I write this days after a contentious political campaign that saw differing opinions as an excuse to launch personal attacks on one another, verbally and even physically. The pandemic is starting its ninth month of ravaging this and other countries, with numbers on the rise and an uncertainty about how the coming flu season will affect the nation’s health. We’re facing the reality that the traditional Norman Rockwell-like scenes of extended family shoulder-to-shoulder around a Thanksgiving table or gathered in a living room looking at presents under a Christmas tree won’t be happening for many this year.
When I think of the context leading up to the birth Jesus, I recognize similarities. For centuries the Hebrew people had faced hardship. Slavery in Egypt, 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, the work that went into establishing the Hebrew nation in the Promised Land. And political troubles: unfit kings, attacks from neighboring countries, the destruction of their cities, years in exile. Famines and drought and other natural disasters. Maybe what we have today isn’t so bad. Yet through the prophets God still gave the message of hope. God was present with them in the hard times, and it would get better someday. And even more hopeful was the word that the Messiah was coming. The prophets just didn’t mention that a few centuries would pass first. So the people went on the best they could.
None of us knows when the pandemic will come to an end. We don’t know if our nation will find a greater sense of political unity. We don’t know what Thanksgiving or Christmas will look like in homes or at church. But we all go on the best we can. Our ecumenical faith partners around Buffalo have recorded readings and music that will be edited together for a virtual version of the annual Thanksgiving Eve service online. Meanwhile the Zion staff has been diligently working to plan what our Christmas celebrations will look like.
Perhaps the best message of hope we can hang onto this Advent season is that as we continue to do our best, through every hill and valley, God is with us. And I invite you to look around you during these four weeks. Who else is with you right now? Even though we can’t be physically together as much as we’d like—maybe more so because we can’t—we rely on family, friends, neighbors, Zion members and staff, and other people in the community, those who are with us in other ways, providing food, protection, medical care, and whatever connections we can for one another. We are not alone, no matter how hard it might be to remember that some days. Find hope in God and find hope in one another. I wish you God’s many blessings this holiday season.