Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The season of Advent is a season of preparation for the Church. We anticipate the birth of Christ celebrated as Christmas and anticipate what God in Christ is doing to reconcile himself to the world.
Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and including Christmas Sunday. Each week we light a different candle that is symbolic of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. Depending on what tradition you belong to the candles can have a little different meaning from week to week. In general, the 5 candles symbolize hope, peace, joy and love with the final candle being the Christ candle. We read Scripture and each week we remember a part of the nativity story. For those of us who I will label “church nerds” it’s a pretty exciting time.
Today we light the candle in celebration of hope.
Last week I was fortunate to spend a week away from work on vacation with my family. My in-laws generously and graciously took the whole family for 5 days of magic and wonder and food and airplane rides and games and messes. And no internet. I know. It was anxiety provoking. I mean, what was I going to use my fancy phone for? What would I be missing out on? Well, for starters, I was going to miss out on being bombarded with a million things to fear in this world. With who is angry or upset about what, who has wronged whom, what group of people were committing violence against what other group of people. That’s right. No news. I also missed out on hundreds upon hundreds of opinions, people trying to convince their neighbor that they are wrong, parents trying to convince the world their children are always well-behaved. None of it. No social media. And guess what? I survived. Not only did I survive but I found myself refreshed and renewed. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some www. I mean, seriously, this blog is made possible by the power of the internet. But until you step outside the constant barrage of voices trying to tell you what to fear and why to be upset, you don’t realize how easy it is to lose hope. It’s like each day it is squeezed out of us bit by bit. We find ourselves with a little less room to believe in the good, the benevolent, the kindness of the world and its people. Instead we are filled with offenses, anger, judgment and fear. We must find a way to restore hope.
Long before the first Christmas ever occurred, a message of hope was shared with anyone who would listen. People long ago and far away were fearful of what might be taken from them, what outsiders might impose on them, who might have power over them. The message to them, and to us, is clear. Hope will prevail. You see, we won’t find the hope we need by electing new officials. We won’t find it by moving to a new house or a new neighborhood or even a new job. Hope isn’t found in a hundred “likes” or in the perfect picture of your tree, it isn’t found in the number of followers you have or even in a thousand views on your blog. Where we find hope is in one another. Not hope just for the future but a hope for the present.
Sometimes we Christians are caught up in what is to come. When we focus on the future we miss out on opportunities to create hope in the world right now. We create hope when we reach out to help our neighbor, when we make peace with those who believe differently than us, when we are generous with our time and resources to make the lives of those around us better. For my fellow physicians, you create hope every time you listen to a complaint, hold a hand, or sit with a grieving patient. You create hope every time you care for someone who is poor or marginalized. For my church people, you create hope every time you are more than generous and expect nothing in return. Young people create hope when they look past the differences in those around them and choose acceptance over judgment. Hope is finding the good, the benevolent and the kind in yourself and then sharing that with the people around you.
One of my favorite Advent songs says “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.” The world is very weary. May we help our weary world rejoice. Today, for me, hope is knowing that God is with each of us both in the suffering and in the joy. That He grieves the things we grieve and longs for what we long for and rejoices with us as well. But mostly, that He continues to work in our world and through His people, through all people, to bring about HOPE. My friends, today may you look past the darkness, find hope in the world and share it with someone else.