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Advent Hope

The beginning of Advent brings up for me two words: preparation and hope. The image that emerges is John the Baptist calling out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Mark 1:1-8). Advent is indeed about preparation. A week ago we prepared our sanctuary in the annual Hanging of the Greens tradition. As we wait for Christmas, we also prepare our hearts and our spirits for Jesus’ coming, or coming again to us.


But what about hope? Why does Advent begin with hope, what does it have to do with preparing our hearts and our homes for the Lord’s coming?


I used to wonder why hope is listed along with faith and love as the three “theological virtues” in I Corinthians 13:13. Faith and love make sense, of course, but hope? It didn’t seem to hold a candle to the other two, kind of like a shy little daisy next to roses and lilies. As I grew older and experienced more times of darkness in my life, I understood better why hope is so central, for our lives and our world.


For me, it comes back to the image of John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness. The Gospel of Matthew states: “The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, to those in the land of shadows a great light has shone.” As much as we might be tempted to romanticize Christmas, the world into which Jesus was born was filled with uncertainty, injustice and need, not too different from our world. It was from this world, this wilderness that John the Baptist cried out, and it was into this world that Jesus brought the hope of redemption and renewal of all creation.


At the beginning of Advent, we are also in that space. Some of us hold grief, pain and trauma that have not been processed. Some of us are facing challenges and uncertainties in our personal or family lives. All of us are living in an uncertain world in which there is division, injustice, inequality and great need. The world in which we live, many in our community and perhaps we ourselves are in darkness, in the wilderness, waiting for the coming of the light. Our world is also the one to which Jesus came.


So what can Advent hope offer us? Like the first flickering candle in the darkness of a December night, Jesus came quietly into the world. Not many even recognized that anything significant was happening. God’s appearance, the Spirit’s work, can still be like that, barely perceptible, like a tired and despairing person having a safe place to spend the night, like a lonely person finding that someone does care, like a struggling family finding that they are not alone… this is the flickering light of hope, not that everything will be okay, but that there is light in the darkness, that we are not alone, that God is at work among us, that Christ is coming.


This is the kind of hope that we can hang on to, and that we can offer to others, in our families, in our communities and in the world around us. No one knows what the future holds. We cannot resolve the division and injustice, let alone the violence and hatred in the world around us. We cannot solve the problems of others and often cannot even do that for ourselves or our loved ones.  And yet… in the joy and “holy chaos” of decorating the sanctuary, in the worship of Word and Sacrament, in the beauty and celebration of music, in the many ministries in which we reach out to our community and give of ourselves, in the quiet or not so quiet times of being there, for those in our families or those who don’t have families to be there for them. In these times, is the quiet hope of something better, of not being alone, the shy little daisy that makes the roses and lilies of faith and love possible. This, I believe, is the voice crying out in the wilderness, to prepare for the coming of the Lord. This is why hope ushers in this holy season of waiting, and the Lord who is already present even as we await his coming.


Advent blessings,


Julia Zhao


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