“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” Charles Dickens famously penned these lines more than a century ago as the opening to his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. I imagine that every generation has felt that same sentiment at some point in their lives…whether about own circumstances, their country or the world. Today, we begin the beautiful season of Advent which invites us to be present to the hope of Christmas even in the midst of the complexity of our lives in this time and place. We gather to prayerfully focus upon this season of hope and to open our hearts to the coming of the Christ child. We gather to be present to our hopes for our world, that peace and love may reign. And, we too may find ourselves in need of a little hope this season. Let us pray, O Holy One, Come into our hearts this day; be present to us such that we may be attentive to your hopes for our lives. May we be inspired to be a sign of hope for one another. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we speak of hope. As Rev. Ashley Harness writes, “The word for Hope in Hebrew, Tikvah, is from the root Hebrew word Qavah, which is commonly translated as “to wait.” Other translations include “to gather together” or “to bind together (perhaps by twisting)” or “to look.” God’s presence in defiant hope, then, is rooted in our gathering or binding or even braiding ourselves together, not in some enmeshed way that erases our unique personhood, but more like a tapestry. A tapestry is made of individual threads gathered and bound together into something more than themselves. This is where hope dwells- defiant of the systems that want to tear us apart.” I love this image of hope which involves binding ourselves to one another; it is difficult to be hopeful alone, but if we lift up hope together, we may be strengthened and encouraged.
As we look to our beautiful Scriptures today, we are reminded that our spiritual ancestors cried out in the midst of their political occupations: “Save us!” The idea of a Messiah went hand-in-hand with the need for God to help them in their distress. The Roman occupation of Jesus’ time and of the early Christian community was expressed as a time of expectant waiting and watching in anticipation of the deep hope that freedom to live fully would one day be restored. We are reminded in these holy words of the hopes of people in that time, and how that hope was essential to their very survival in such difficult times.
Jesus spoke often about “staying awake” to what God is doing in our world. We know that prayer is an intentional way of staying awake and alert to the presence of God among us. This first week of Advent is the week of Hope, and yet, what we hear in the very beginning of Advent is a Psalm of lament, an important reminder that when things are going well, we don’t seek out hope or need it desperately. More often, Hope emerges from times of hardship and struggle.
Sheep and goats are only trust the voice of their shepherd or shepherdess. When a flock feels lost or unsafe, the sound of a shepherd’s voice would inspire hope. The cry to “save us” is at the center of the messianic hope to which many were clinging in the time prior to Jesus’ birth. The Psalmist is also crying out for God to listen. And so today, we might reflect upon our own hopes for our lives and for our world. What hopes do we carry that we are asking God to listen to?
The first Gospel reading of Advent from the Book of Mark describes life as calamity. In the midst of it, Jesus reminds his disciples to make sure they pay attention and don’t get distracted by all the bad news. Stay awake, stay alert, he says. Watch for the signs of a new day. We too may find ourselves distracted by so much bad news unfolding in our world that it overwhelms us and prevents us from seeing the visible signs of hope in the world.
So in the coming week, I invite us all to be awake to signs of Hope in our lives. May we bring hope in some way to those who may be feeling hopeless or are struggling to feel hopeful about their lives. Maybe someone offers us a word of hope if only we have ears to hear it. We are woven together in a beautiful tapestry of life and today, God calls us to weave the beautiful colors of hope into our lives and into the world. As we are bound to one another with our God who loves us, we may choose to be hope for one another.