Advent: Hope

Advent is upon us. Today, we light the candle of Hope.  The Prophet’s candle.  The cycle returns to the beginning or to the beginning before the beginning.  Advent represents the time of waiting.  The time between when the Prophets’ prophecy the coming of the Messiah and…the coming of the Messiah.  

It is a period of waiting…maybe it feels a bit more of a familiar feeling this year?  A limbo.  A promise of a time when things will be better.  

I think we’ve a lot to learn from Advent this year.  Waiting and how do we wait?  We’re not very good at waiting.  We’re designed for quick responses and quick decisions, especially nervous system responses.  They are usually fast.  This is slow.  Advent is slow.  Advent focuses on themes in the dark.  What’s in the dark that we don’t want to face?  Advent themes around loss.  How do we face life during times of grief and loss and emptiness?  How do we face life when things are missing or things are not as we wish them to be?    

Advent is also a “coming”.  Things are coming, but it’s a between time.  Between this and that.  We can take lessons from the animals.  They don’t fight. They don’t resist.  They don’t get angry at the inevitable cycles of life.  They wait.  They accept and do what must be done.  Of course, what makes us human is our ability to think ahead and worry and plan.  We are capable of looking at potential outcomes and plan for it.  Worry and rumination.  Looking ahead and looking behind.  The animals can more easily settle into a place of…trust, maybe not hope, hope requires that very human forward thinking, but faith and trust.  Us humans, can have it all: hope, faith, trust…we can use this ability to think and discern and use it wisely.  

This Advent allows us different ways to look at this time.  

This time is also a letting go, a paring down.  Truly the act of giving a gift is letting go.  Giving, perhaps, to someone else something you would desire.  Or something you have and know someone else would also love or love more.  Sacrifice.  Fasting.  Sharing.  Caring for one another.  

Waiting.  You’d think we’d be better at this as Christians.  Kids, waiting each year for Christmas morning…a child’s form of Advent.  Sometimes, we even had that torturous counting calendar.  Waiting…waiting.  Waiting for Santa.  Waiting for the gifts of Christmas morn.  

You can almost tangibly feel a difference this year.  There is more openness to “whatever”.  Christmas carols on November 1st?  OK.  Lights strung up before Thanksgiving?  Yes.  A little more patience with “timing”…you know the “right time” to hang lights or sing carols…we’ve all been there, both judging and being judged.  When are we “supposed” to start watching the uplifting holiday movies?  Apparently it was on Halloween this year.   There seems a bit more patience and acceptance.  A little more kindness and laughter.  What’s important?  Not the “timing” of things.  Or the “right” way to do things.  A little more “who cares” in a good way.  Not a we don’t care, “who cares”, but a that’s not as important as we thought it was “who cares”.  An if it brings you, or someone else, some joy, “who cares”.  

This year, it seems, there is oddly a deeper sense of space.  Space in between things.  We can fill it as we have in the past or we can fill it with attention.  What is most important?  Perhaps fill it with prayer and connection to things deeper than ourselves.  Letting go and filling that space we’ve created with prayer, intention, contemplation…

Today we light the Advent candle of Hope.  

We can focus on hopes.  Small hopes.  Great hopes.  Hopes for ourselves.  Hopes for family.  Hopes for community.  Hopes for our nation. Hopes for our loved ones.  Hopes for the universe…why not?  

Hopes.  You could see in the kids story, a parallel to new beginnings out of what actually seems like death.  The little turtle trusts herself to the mud and the cold and to shutting her system down to almost death.  Trusting that it’s not the end.  Trusting that spring will come again and she will be renewed.  Maybe this is easier for an older and wiser turtle who’s been through it before.  Maybe.  

Can we see new life and light in the darkness?  Can we see a doorway when it seems dark?  

Hope.  Hope is an interesting thing.  “A fragile thing” some call it.  Hmm.  I always thought of hope as bright and cheery and light and airy.  

Hope’s been a’visiting these past weeks without me realizing it until I sat down to this.  I was rereading the story of Pandora and her box.  There are all these terrible things that escape out of the box into the world, but last thing that tries to escape is Hope.  She catches Hope and closes it in the box before it escapes.  Hope lies in the box where it is tended and held.  Hope is something that needs attention and tending.  

One of my favorite paintings is by George Frederick Watts of Hope.  The original painting was from 1886.  Hope is blindfolded and curled up on the earth plucking the one single string left on the lyre as she leans in close to listen.  The painting is dark and sad.  In 1886, the painting had a star above, as an image of optimism.  

The 1897 painting does not.  It is said that in the second painting, Watts was grieving the death of a child.  Hope had changed for him.  

We think of hope as light and bright in our lives, but perhaps Hope is not.  Perhaps hope is in the dark with us.  Hope is in the cage with us.  Hope is in these between times with us.  Hope is in the limbo with us.  Hope, too, can despair.  Perhaps hope must be with us so that we can tend to it.  We can be sure that it doesn’t escape us OR that we only see hope in the future and not in the moment.  

The future.  We hope for light, spring, covid vaccine, money, retirement, Christ, baby Jesus, that and when things will be better…

But what about now?  Is hope with us now?  

This may seem random, but here’s what Martin Luther King has to say about unfilled or tended for hope….

This is not as strange as it sounds, when I was looking up the Watts painting of Hope, I learned that Martin Luther King uses it in a sermon called Shattered Dreams (this is where I find these words on what happens if we lose hope).  The Watts Hope painting was also used in a later sermon in Chicago that a young lawyer heard.  This lawyer later wrote a book called: The Audacity of Hope.  

Yes, hope has been a’visiting these last few weeks.  In ways I didn’t even realize.  I thought I would share the interesting ways God works.  

Here’s what Martin Luther King says happens when we lose hope or forget to tend to hope.  

One.  We can become bitter and turn to hatred.  Hatred of others, ourselves, even life. 

Two.  We can withdraw.  We give up.  We “don’t care” in a bad “don’t care” kind of way.  

Three.  We can sink into fatalism.  

Hope is not actually for later.  Hope is for now.  Hope is an action verb.  Martin Luther King will go on to say in his sermon that we must accept disappointments, but also honestly confront life as it is, and hold to infinite, radiant hope.  I think there isn’t a greater lesson for this moment in time.  

Hope is our work.  

From Hope, we create Light.  Perhaps this is why Hope is the first candle of Advent.  It is from this small light that all the other fires arise.  Faith.  Joy.  Peace.  Love.  This small glimmer of hope’s light needs us to tend it, to feed it, to nurture it, to nourish it.  Hope needs us as much as we need it.  As we tend to hope, the light gets brighter and the light spreads.  Perhaps it is through the light of our hope that the other lights grow until finally the light and hope comes to life with the birth of the baby Jesus.  

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