When I offered to write the first Advent meditation on the theme of hope, I had no idea I would be writing it at such a hard time for those of us who yearn for God’s justice and peace for all of God’s creation. These are challenging days when our emotions are raw and our hearts are sad, not unlike the days before the birth of Jesus that we anticipate again in this Advent Season of 2016.
The travel-weary couple who found refuge in a stable in time for the birth of their child lived as unwilling subjects of an occupying government, the Roman Empire. A power-hungry, narcissistic King Herod initiated a massacre of all Jewish baby boys around the time of Jesus’ birth because he feared any threat to his control. At that time, the Jews understood their world to be divided into two types of people: Jewish and Gentile (non-Jew) and they worked hard to disassociate themselves from the Gentiles. The Jewish religious and governing system was also divided between two parties: the Pharisees – the ‘people’s party’, taught the law and traditions of Israel’s patriarchs, and were strictly conforming to Jewish law; and the Sadducees – the wealthy and conservative leaders who rejected the faith traditions in favor of political and religious cooperation with the Romans. This was two thousand years ago but the parallels to our day are striking.
In a recent sermon I reflected on an evening prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer that asks God to “defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” I said then that living with this prayer over time has caused me to consider “night” not just as the hours of darkness we experience each day, but also as a metaphor for all of the hard, dark times in our lives…times like these when we are pretty certain that many (if not most) of the values we hold dear and people we care about will be under attack. This feels like “night,” which leads me to ponder the perils and dangers from which we need to be defended. Despair that paralyzes us? Apathy that gives in to the darkness? Anger that is destructive of coalition-building? Name-calling that further divides us? Short-sightedness that blinds us to the end goal of justice? These are but a few of the dangers and perils we face as we try to embody God’s justice and bring all of God’s children into a commonwealth where all can thrive.
As we enter the season of Advent in this momentous time in the life of our nation and our world, let’s ponder together the words of Brian Wren: “Hope is a star that shines in the night…” He reminds us that hope lightens the darkness; hope sparks creative and productive responses; hope inspires our actions for justice and peace for all people and our imperiled planet.
In these hard days, I invite you to consider who and what makes you feel hopeful and then hold onto them. Hug the people, figuratively if not literally, and memorize the words or actions that inspire hope in you. From another dark time in the life of our nation, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us: “We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.” Let’s join him in clinging to infinite hope as we begin our journey to Bethlehem in these troubling days.