First Advent Candle: Hope
HOPE, by Luke Schumann
This is the season we are in need of most at the moment,
For now is at last the time when hope seeps in
and sticks out like an unmatched sock.
This is when our theology can be found in its purest form,
For it is preached not as fact or stat or system,
But instead as its true identity: Metaphor, art, narrative, and poetry.
In prophecy of the coming Savior;
The one who restores and turns all our tragic stories into songs of redemption.
And when hatred, violence, and oppression are seemingly
The only things that are tangible in this world,
Hope yet steps in as a most-welcomed guest,
As a considerate concept,
As an abstract thought still finding its form,
As a familiarity we still have yet to meet.
And yet we know in our deepest fibers
That this is not some unfounded hypothesis;
Hope is not something we merely long for,
A hypothetical idea that has the potential to plot-twist.
Hope is instead a stronghold.
Hope is real and living,
Breathing life into our next day,
Sustaining us in our brokenness,
Greeting our despair with a knowing grin.
Hope is more real than the suffering in this world –
Even if it’s much less prominent –
And hope is what enables us
To long and strive for more than what we have in front of us.
A world where all are loved and cared for.
A world where peace endures
And the line is blurred between enemy and brother.
A world where joy is at the forefront of our fixtures.
This is what hope does. This is what hope promises. This is what hope ignites.
Advent 1B November 29, 2020 Mark 13:24-37
Jesus begins our gospel reading with the words “In those days after the suffering.” When I first read them earlier this week, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was talking about 2020, for 2020 has, in many ways, felt like “days of suffering.” Of course, you know what I mean. I don’t need to detail the things that have filled us with dread and despair and disappointment this year. And it is “in those days after the suffering” that we begin the season of Advent … the beginning of a new liturgical year in the life of the church.
Jesus tells us what to expect. He continues, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven.” Yes, darkness is how we begin Advent. Quite literally in fact, as we face the shortest days of the year with it completely dark by five o’clock in the evening. But, in another sense, darkness is a good place to begin. The dark can seem like an empty space that invites our imagination to explore the deep things of life that our busy days push to the corners. It is like beginning a story with a blank sheet of paper and over time and thought and the flow of words, seeing where the story leads and how the story ends. Darkness can be a friend. During the dark silence of night our minds can open our senses to new possibilities, to new ways of looking at life, to new understandings of who we are in the grand scheme of things.
Often, we are fed the lie that darkness is synonymous with evil and all that is light and bright is good. At best such a notion hinders us from seeing darkness as a gift. At worst, it encourages prejudices, however subconscious, against people with skin darker than our own. The point is that we don’t have to be afraid of the dark. The truth is that God does some of God’s best work in the dark. For it was in a dark and empty void that God created all that exists. It was in the dark of night that Jacob wrestled with an angel and was left with a new name and a limp. It was again in the dark of night that God called Samuel to be a prophet and told him that he would do great things in Israel. It was in the dark warmth of Mary’s womb that the Christ child grew and in a dark, dirty stable that the savior of the world was born. It was on a dark early morning that women went to a grave and were met by resurrection and life.
Yes, God does some of God’s best work in the dark. But I also know that for some darkness is a curse instead of a blessing. I have people in my life who suffer from depression and the darkness of their world gets so deep sometimes that they want to give up. The darkness robs them of any hope … of all their energy … of their will to live.
We had a rule in our house that you didn’t call anyone after nine o’clock in the evening unless it was absolutely necessary. That meant that if the phone rang later in the evening it was never good news. As a pastor, when those phone calls came, often it was a call from the hospital or the police or a desperate parishioner in the midst of a crisis. I have also found that problems and issues that seem overwhelming at night appear to be much more manageable during the day.
At those times of darkness in our lives, of our own or another’s making, be they good or evil or in between, our work is to name the darkness for what it is and to find what it asks of us. Perhaps the darkness is asking us to bring the dawn of hope to places where injustice and suffering resides. Perhaps the darkness is asking us to be a candle to give warmth and insight to the shadows of pain and fear. Perhaps the darkness is calling us to be companions with those facing uncertainty and blanket them with the assurance that they are not alone. The point is that darkness has something to teach us and we will need good ears to hear in the silence of night what God would have us learn.
In these Advent days of darkness and waiting, it may indeed seem that God’s face is hidden from our sight. But the sacred presence is there, breathing in the shadows. This is when we learn to trust senses other than sight and to seek the face of God beneath our fingertips.