We light the first Advent candle to mark the beginning of our Christmas preparations and to remind ourselves that we are a people of Hope. It’s a word sometimes cheapened by everyday usage. We may hope that the Patriots win tomorrow’s game, or that it isn’t raining when we take our vacation to Disney World.
But hope is a bigger word in our vocabulary of faith than that.“Faith, Hope, and Love,” at least according to St. Paul, comprise the big three. While love may well be “the greatest of these,” the implication is that the three are somehow connected. I’ve always thought that the journey begins with faith, which isn’t primarily about saying a creed or about memorizing a catechism, but about trust. More specifically, it is about well-placed (rather than misplaced) trust. And faith leads us to hope, and hope teaches us how to love one another. To say this another way, it is difficult (if not impossible) to love (particularly the unlovely) unless we have faith, and hope...
Between our house and our neighbor’s there are a whole lot of maple trees. From time to time I try to clip back or hack down all of the little maple trees that sprout up. But they seem to come back even stronger in the spring with new shoots. That happens, as I understand it, because the root system already there makes new life come about more quickly, even though at ground level it appears that life has been cut off.
On a practical level this is annoying, but it’s also a Biblical image of hope. An important Advent image to ponder is the “stump of Jesse” that gives way to a “new branch of David.” Jesse was King David’s father. What this metaphor suggests is that even though it appeared as if the Davidic dynasty came to an end–that it was only a stump—nevertheless from that stump new growth will and does appear. For us as Christians that is language we cannot help but to connect to Jesus, the Son of David who is our hope and our salvation.
Advent is a time to contemplate new beginnings, new possibilities. It’s a season of hope. And so even though Advent begins with talk about endings about the end of the world we know, it, is about the hope that in the midst of it all that God is doing a new thing: God is bringing forth a branch of David out of the old stump of Jesse. God is birthing a new creation: new heavens, and a new earth.
Hope isn’t naivete, or blind cockeyed optimism. It is the conviction that sin and death never get the last word. It is the conviction that love is stronger than hate, that the truth is stronger than lies, that trust is stronger than fear. Hope is the knowledge that God is in the healing business and that health is God’s plan for us: personally, socially, and cosmically. As people of hope, we choose not to let our fears dictate our behaviors; instead acting and living and moving from that place of hope that leads us to a manger in Bethlehem.
During this Advent Season, the people of St. Francis Church will be offering daily reflections that can be found at: http://stfrancisholden.blogspot.com/ for anyone who may be interested.