“All Earth is Hopeful.” Or so says the Advent hymn. (ELW #266) But is it? Somedays it doesn’t feel like any of the earth is hopeful much less all of it.
Advent is a church season that focuses on Hope and Preparation for the arrival of God’s anointed one. Not just for Christ’s first coming in the stable long ago but for the next and hopefully last coming of the Savior of all the Earth. But how can we prepare if we don’t have hope?
Hope is hard, especially these days. We’re constantly bombarded with stories and bad news of death, destruction and despair. Misinformation and outright lies abound. Trust in anyone or anything, including the God of Jesus Christ, is eroding to be replaced with worldly chaos, fear, idolatry, and shame-filled attacks on anyone who is or thinks differently.
It doesn’t end there. Omicron has arrived to take delta’s place as the new Covid threat which is just leading to more uncertainty and “breaking news” media panic. People are driving cars into Christmas parades and other people are shooting one another, including once again at another school. Violence of words and weapons seems the standard solution of the day for far too many people across our nation and our world. Smash and grab stealing is the new entertainment of choice. And the climate is unpredictable and seems uncooperative to our comfy ways of living that we are unwilling to change.
How do we find hope in the midst of so much trauma, suffering and death? We know we can’t go back to some pseudo-mythical time of glory which never existed. But how do we go forward or prepare for anything if we’re stuck in despair?
And yet we – as people of faith in Jesus Christ; as followers of Christ on his way – we are called to Hope. More than that, we are gifted with Hope. Hope is a freely given blessing of the Holy Spirit like faith (trust) and love when open ourselves up to it.
In the gospel lesson from Luke last Sunday, Jesus announced, “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Lk 21:28) Don’t cower in terror. Don’t wallow in the pain. Don’t turn and run. No, stand up and face forward. Because what you’ve been hoping for is coming. The new life you’ve be re-deemed with is near. In the midst of all the struggles and traumas and suffering of the human experience, the Savior comes at last. Hope wins again!
But what does this Hope look like as we stand up and face the seemingly hopeless world? It’s not blind optimism or wishful thinking. Hope recognizes reality and sees the pain of the world. Hope grieves the death and laments the losses. Hope acknowledges the suffering of the Earth and all that lives upon it. Hope experiences anger and anxiety and even fear. Hope sees the truth of what is and does not pretend it is something it is not.
But hope stands and faces forward anyway. Hope does not wallow in suffering or let it rule our lives, our choices, our trust in the God of Jesus Christ. Hope refuses to be overwhelmed by fear, despair or rage at a seemingly hopeless world. Hope, though constantly victimized, is resilient and does not allow the status of “victim” to become its identity. Hope never turns to violence, cynicism, bitterness or so many other gods of this world as the solution to its problems.
Hope stands up and faces the earth. Hope sees the light at the end of the tunnel even without eyes. Hope says to suffering and violence and death, “You will not win! Jesus says so!” Hope through faith clings to the resurrection even while hanging on the cross or weeping beneath it. Hope keeps its eyes open and constantly seeks God’s new life in this world and the next. Hope lives in the glimpses and instances of salvation that are always around us when we’re willing to see. No matter what, Hope clings to God’s possibilities and searches for God’s opportunities.
“Hope comes in the act of taking the next step,” Karl Barth once said. How is about moving forward into God’s future. Hope takes one step forward, then another, then another even in the midst of the most traumatic of times. Hope owns the truth of the past and learns from it. But hope does not let the past, its blessings or its sins, control the future. Hope exists in and for the present, welcoming God’s future that has become incarnate, each moment taking another step towards that future no matter how small. For that Hope, whose name is Jesus, the Christ, has chosen to dwell with us in our suffering while always leading us toward the light at the end of the tunnel, inviting us into Love, Joy, Peace, Kindness, and yes, more Hope.
Hope is the Spirit’s gift to us…when we open ourselves up to Christ. It’s in Hope and only in this Hope that we prepare for “God with us” to arrive, knowing through a faith saturated with the promise of God’s good news in Jesus that our Hope will never be in vain.
May your hearts and minds be blessed with the fullness of Hope this Advent season!
 As quoted in Katherine Keller, On the Mystery, 2008.
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Bishop Laurie Jungling
Elected June 1, 2019, Laurie is the 5th Bishop of the Montana Synod