I had an interesting though brief conversation this week out on Cranberry Street. Greg & I had received a challenge gift, to be used for something charitable this Advent. I matched the gift and used the money to buy some food for the little pantry. As I placed the SpaghettiOs in the pantry, a woman from the homeless community came up the street. And she told me that the little pantry was like a light on a dark night. With so many support systems drying up in the city, she always finds hope when she can get some supper from our pantry.
Where can we perceive hope when so many things seem to be going wrong? That’s probably a good focus question for Coronatide. Where can we place our hope now, as infections surge and church is virtual and the moments of fa-la-la are scarce? Remember, hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism means that we expect that the future will be good, because of the evidence we can see. Hope means we anticipate that all shall be well, because we trust in the promises of God.
Hope is not the response of the weak or the naïve. Hope is strong and informed. Hope is a little subversive. Hope is tenacious. Hope can provide the inspiration for a long-term plan of resistance to despair.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims an unexpected word of hope to the people of Judah in exile. You may recall that more often, the word from God articulated in the prophets is a tough-love sort of correction, occasionally including name-calling and threats. The prophets always call the Chosen People back to God, reminding them that God is the only true source of hope and salvation. Today, Isaiah’s prophetic voice is filled with consolation and compassion, promising restoration and nurturance. God declares that their time of suffering and isolation is over, and that the glory of God is about to be revealed among them.
Over five centuries later, Mark composes the opening sentence of his most important work: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. David Lose thinks that this introductory sentence is a descriptor for the whole Gospel – that Mark intends for his 16-chapter book to be just the beginning of what he understands to be a major transformation in the world. The good news is not one moment in time. It is ongoing and far-reaching, like the light from a candle piercing the shadows of night.
Mark anchors his Gospel in the prophetic tradition, combining Isaiah’s “prepare the way of the Lord” with the prophet Malachi’s image of a messenger going ahead of the Holy One (Mal 3.1). John the Baptist is that messenger. John’s prophecy is so unique, so innovative, so full of hope for a desperate generation, that it is no wonder that Jesus refers to John as the greatest of the prophets. John points us toward a new hope, a hope that God would continue to dwell with us and among us, cleansing us from our sins and transforming us. Through the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, we are moulded into a new creation.
How would our perspective change if we considered some of our current tribulations as growing pains – those awful leg aches during times of rapid growth in adolescence – or labor pains – which precede the blessing of a birth? I do not suggest that to distract us from or to minimize our losses and sufferings. This has been a hard and harsh year. Still we have learned things, about technology, and relationship, and what we really need. We have grown our online ministry, using new platforms for formation and study. We continue to pray and share Holy Communion together. And we have reason to hope that we will return to our life together, rebuilding our relationships, and moving toward a restoration in the future. This intervention of the Holy One, long anticipated in the scriptures, continues among us right now, even in this most difficult season.
My friends, cling to hope. Hope is a gift from God, and often it is made visible by the work of ordinary people. We can prepare the way for the Lord by sharing in divine work. We can participate in the joy of being a blessing and occasion of hope for others.
Advent reminds us that we can reorganize our lives and re-consider what is most important to us. We are going to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. The Christ. The one who took away the sins of the world and the one who has given us eternal life. Life is difficult and the headlines are most distressing. And we have every good reason to be hopeful. Not optimistic. Hopeful. May it be so.
David Lose. In the Meantime. November 30, 2020. http://www.davidlose.net/2020/11/advent-2-b-beginnings/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29