Advent Hope

Ann Barnet

December 1, 2019

 This grey and rainy Sunday is a good one to reflect on what causes us to hope.  We’ve lost a pillar of our community, Fred Taylor.  My faithful co-mission group member, Joe Collier, died a few weeks ago.  My foster-son Arthur died unexpectedly on November 12th.  Maria just lost her mother.  Eleanor is grieving over the death of her niece.  And so it goes.

A few weeks ago Fred Taylor and I talked by phone about this teaching.  He said that he hoped he could attend in person.  That was not to be, but I truly believe he is here in spirit.  Fred was a person of radiant inspiring hope.  He found hope in this community.

In Christian time-keeping each year on this 1st Sunday in Advent, we celebrate our HOPE as we wait again for Jesus to be born.  This Hope has been foretold and renewed over the generations until today, and still we wait in Hope.  The writer of the Gospel of Matthew reaches back to the prophet Isaiah to describe Jesus as Hope’s fulfillment: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved… He will proclaim justice among the nations …until he leads justice on to victory… In him the nations shall put their hope.”  But Jesus warns us in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 24 that we don’t know and can’t know the day the Lord will come.  Be ready for the unexpected, he counsels.

Since 1947 the “Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” has been publishing a “Doomsday Clock” to warn us about how close in time we humans are to global destruction from the weapons and technology we’ve created.  In 2018, the Doomsday Clock was reset to 2 minutes to midnight.  A renewed threat of nuclear conflict, and the existential threat posed by climate change have plunged the world into “the new abnormal.”

The Doomsday Clock – the Doomsday Calendar - is set to an ADVENT of DESPAIR. 

The Christian Clock tells time differently.  For Christians, the Clock is set to the Advent, not of Despair, but to the ADVENT of HOPE.

How do Christians dare hope in a world such as ours?  Wiser heads than yours and mine have pronounced the near inevitability of climate destruction or nuclear war.  Increasingly earth’s creatures feel forced to fight for a place because of habitat destruction, pandemic threat, fire, drought, and flood.  We don’t feel safe.  The level of inequality in our society is increasing.  There is less fairness.  Inequality is breeding greater cynicism, resentment, and hopelessness.  And hopelessness is the greatest harbinger of violence and threat to democracy. 

And as we learn more and more about this expanding universe with its countless stars in galaxy upon galaxy and dark matter we can’t even imagine, we are forced to confront the uncomfortable truth that earth and earth’s creatures are less than a speck and the blink of an eye.  Isn’t it absolutely ridiculous to hope that the God of this splendor, this vastness could bother with us?

Nevertheless, Christians are called to HOPE.  We are charged with what I call the duty of Hope.  We are called to cultivate the imagination to Hope.  We can become sensitive to examples of Hope and tell our children stories of Hope.  We can experience the Joy of Hope; and finally, we trust the promise of Hope Fulfilled.

The Duty of Hope consists of the necessity to put one foot in front of the other and walk down a path whose end we cannot see.  It is today that we do our daily tasks, act in kindness toward our neighbor, share our resources, and play with our children.  We hold the paradox that now is the moment that matters and that we, as people of the 8th Day, are charged to be co-creators of a better future for ourselves, our neighbors and the planet.  

Our ultimate hope is in a good God.  And we can know God is good because he gave us Jesus — pure grace.  Why he should reveal himself in a fragile baby who lived and grew and died as we do is beyond our comprehension.  But we dare to hope because of Jesus, Son of the great God of the vast universe — who was willing to become one of us, important to him although we are a tiny and flawed speck in the vastness of creation.  As Paul says: Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”  It’s really impossible to believe until we’ve actually experienced the reality of Jesus’ presence.  And this he allows us to do.  God’s giving of God’s best and beloved in human form uncovers the reality of Love at the heart of the universe.  This is the heart of the story we tell one another and pass on to our children.

It’s true that often we hope in the wrong things.  Our media are cluttered with false cheer and false promises.  We’re tempted to place our hope in the material world — what we can see, taste, touch, and feel; in what we can buy; in success, in attractive politicians and policies, in scientific advances.  Then when things go out of control, we despair or turn cynical.  Life builds us up and then wears us down.  Love happens, loss happens, illusions of happily ever after fade out and conflicted feelings overwhelm.

Jesus reminds us that we are not the masters of God’s purposes, but the servants.  We hope in God each time we venture into the struggle for peace and justice.  What part of our world’s pain touches the depths of our own pain?  Where does creation’s struggle for life and meaning touch our own longing? 

Our 8th Day Missions are in the business of hope.  When we help create hope for others, and that’s what our Missions do, the amazing thing is that the hope bounces back to envelop us too.  Education is hope.  Housing is hope.  Art is hope.  Planting trees is hope.  Scientific research is hope. 

I think we must try to grasp the truth that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for, because it is our moment — yours and mine — the only moment we as individuals have.  But our deepest belief as Christians is that God contains all our moments.  God has room for each and every one of our brief lives and God values each of us in our beauty and our foolishness. 

We build in gratitude on the foundations laid by others   The Bible is full of examples of men and women who hoped in God's promises.  Abraham and Sarah are held up as models of hope.  When they were old, God promised to bless them and give them many descendants, as numerous as the stars in the sky.  But despite their belief, they had to wait many years to see the fulfillment in their son, Isaac.  All the while, they trusted in God.  Their hope was rooted in a trustworthy God and in His eternal promises.  Scriptures describe this hope "as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast." That hope endures to our time.  The civil rights movement here and in South Africa, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Marian Wright Edelman, Gordon Cosby and countless others all over the world are examples that can guide us to the living Hope:  Hatred destroys, but love is stronger.

We are encouraged now by the motivated generation of young people world-wide pushing for dramatic change —  out on the streets, on their smartphones, in Egypt, Chile, Bolivia, Hong Kong, Washington, Moscow.  The issues are dizzyingly diverse: Climate activists, human rights activists, inequality activists, anti-racism activists, women’s rights activists, anti-war activists, anti-corruption activists, anti-gun activists.  The scene is confusing, and sometimes frightening and chaotic.  We see violent and fatal pushbacks.  Violence as a conflict-resolution strategy is a daily threat in this era of terrorism and out-of-control demagogic political ranting. 

Our central task is to keep on hoping and hoping against the odds.  To act as if we truly believe that the new world is created in love not violence.  When we really think of it that way, then we are on our way.  Rather than be discouraged or paralyzed by the disturbing direction of our nation and world, we need to get up, organize, and broadcast the strong nonviolent witness to what it means to be a good steward of God’s earth and God’s people.  David Hilfiker points out to us the signs of hope in our own country: what he calls the resilience of our institutions — and those in them who stand against corruption and lies.  We can stand with them.

We have the Duty of Hope, yes, but we are no less charged to live in Joyful Hope – to revel in this gorgeous natural world, to be amazed at all the imagination and learning and art and music and good food and family and our children, and friends and our dogs and kindness and care.  Of course we can make a long counterlist; brutality and torture and terror and ignorance and greed, the stupidities of racial hatred, senseless war and premature death.  But this list for those of us who have been touched by Jesus’ love just suggests a plan of action: feed the hungry, load up the wounded immigrant onto your donkey and donate your money to Joseph’s House or Bethany or Christ’s House or Samaritan Inns.  Provide the resources to make the wounded outsider well, do good to those who use us despitefully, suffer the little children to come to us, die if need be for justice, sing songs in a strange land. 

Jesus’ blessings, the beatitudes, teach us how to be people of the 8th day of creation — co-creators with God of the new Jerusalem.

For me, the path to Hope has often been anything but clear.  How can I be hopeful when the world is so full of suffering?  Do I even have the right to Hope?  Maybe I’m hopeful because my life as a privileged white modern American has been so much easier than the lives of most people who have inhabited this earth.

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the shepherds rejoiced in fulfilled hope.  But King Herod feared a rival.  Herod preemptively murdered the little boys who were born the year of Jesus’ birth.  For a long time in my Christian journey, and even in dark moments now, I could not forgive God for the death of those babies.  The hopeless cries of bereft mothers drowned out the song of the Angels.  Why did those baby innocents die to save Jesus?  I thought Jesus was supposed to do the dying.

When I was 14 years old and saw pictures of victims of the Holocaust, again I doubted the providence of a good God.  In the face of such evil, isn’t Hope a delusion?

When I worked at a hospital in Mexico in the 1970’s trying to save starving infants, but knowing their bodies and brains were permanently blighted by the months of malnutrition they suffered during a critical period in their development.  We saved their lives, but beyond that there was little to offer them in the slums of Mexico City.  Again I doubted.

When in 1990 a poor twisted Family Place mother refused to even look at her unwanted newborn and gave it the name Chiste which means “bad joke,” I wondered if God could deliver this holy family from darkness. 

When toddlers were separated from their mothers by US immigration officers, again I asked, “Where is the Hope?”

I can’t pretend to have the answer to evil.  Who does?  And yet I have learned to hope, even when doubt lurks around the edges.  I’ve learned that a big part of Hope consists in simply being patient and being present, and being open to the moments of grace.  For many years I have been benefited and blessed by being part of this our Church of the Saviour Community of Hope.  Companions on the way have patiently taught me, the cloud of witnesses like Mary Hitchcock, Elizabeth O’Connor, Esther Dorsey, Amparo Palacios, Dot Cresswell, Julian Nichols, Carol Fitch, Moe Berg, Dotty Bockstigel, Joe Collier, and people of The Family Place;  I could name a dozen more, one of the joys of a long life, ordinary people like us who accomplish extraordinary things.

With Martin Luther King I too can marvel: “Mine eyes have seen the glory!”

"I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus said, "He who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

 “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” the dying Christ said to the thief beside him on the cross. 

All these words are God’s guarantee of Hope fulfilled.  “Let the little children come to me…of such is the kingdom of Heaven,” so says Jesus.

With Fred Taylor we can affirm that “Yes!   The living God is stronger than death and the chaos and disintegration that issues in death.  And whenever and wherever the living God breathes life, there is life before death and the promise of a new kind of life after physical death — a new creation….”