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HOPE. What is it? Do you have any? Is it general or specific? Does it get you up in the morning, or is it something you dream of in distracter reverie? In the liturgical way of organizing the season of Advent (the time measured from the 4th Sunday preceding Christmas) HOPE is the “theme” of the first week, based upon readings of scripture.
Hope is a word that seems to have been cheapened in the past years in our culture and country. Used heavily in elections, by all parties, it seems to have become an undeliverable promise. While not everyone in our world or nation is hopeless and depressed, our national zeitgeist seems to be one in which we feel lost, adrift, unsure of where we’re going and how we’re going to ever get there – if our leaders can ever agree and work together! So how then do we respond to hope?; hope in a God who promises the wildest things?, hope in each other as we are all too aware of our common human limitations?; hope that we are headed somewhere positive, or in part of God’s hope-full vision?
Traditional Christian responses to this existential question range from one side (today we’d label it fundamentalist or evangelical in our culture) which names the world as evil, encouraging us to withdraw and give up on it, to separate ourselves to remain pure or holy, handing it over to God’s judment which will come in the apocalypse. The other extreme (what we might label as extreme progressivism and liberalism [in the philosophical sense of the word]) points out that life is continually getting better, that as humans we’re improving, that we’re destined to grow into goodness, wholeness and peace…we just haven’t gotten there yet.
The two suggested readings with which we wrestle today point to this tension. Isaiah presents a prophetic vision of what God is moving the world towards, and how we should live (then and now). Matthew talks of how Jesus will return to the world to bring it to that vision of peace and wholeness: suddenly and unexpectedly. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” which is the Latin word for the Greek word “parousia” or the second coming of Jesus. Hope is not just in retelling the old familiar story, but in looking for how God is breaking in our world today. This Sunday – the first in Advent – is considered to be the beginning – or first day – in the liturgical year. The church calendar begins with HOPE: in the future, remembering the past, looking for it in the present.
Questions for Going Deeper