Just like clockwork, our Christian year turns over today, and the Gospel message that we hear is full of doom and gloom.
And yet, the candle on our Advent wreath that we lit this morning is the one called “Hope.”
So, what’s going on?
We hear Jesus talk about suffering (the tribulation in the King James Version”), and then he quotes Old Testament prophets. The Son of Man will come with angels who will gather the “elect”—meaning those who believe in him—and then he adds that no one knows when this will happen, not even Jesus himself.
I suppose we can find a little bit of hope in that last part. Jesus will come to save believers. But even that breadcrumb of hope is couched with a dire reminder: you might be asleep when this happens, and then presumably you won’t be gathered up by the angels.
My verdict is “not much hope offered there.”
In place of the Psalm appointed for today, we prayed Canticle 11, words from the 60th chapter of Isaiah—words that certainly offer hope:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come.”
“The glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.”
“Over you the Lord will rise and his glory will appear upon you.”
“Violence will no more be heard in your land, ruin or destruction within your borders.”
At last, something to look forward to when Jesus comes again. Light, dawn, glory. No more violence, ruin, or destruction.
And Isaiah ends with an explanation of why the sun and moon and stars will disappear—we will not need them any longer, because the brightness, the glory of the Lord will shine on us.
And it seems pretty clear that St Paul felt a lot of hope when he wrote his first letter to the Christians in Corinth:
“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…”
“He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul wrote these encouraging words to people he had lived with and converted to Christianity, and he had left them with a church that was in good shape. But about five years later, word reached him that his beloved Corinthians were fighting with each other, breaking up into factions, and the church was falling apart.
He writes that he gives thanks for them because God’s grace has come to them through their faith in Jesus, and he reminds them that they already have everything they need to live as children of God. He was soon going to write some harsh corrective words to them, but he wanted to start things on a hopeful note.
And that’s where I hope we will be in this holy season of Advent. Much is going on in our world today. There is plenty of reason to worry, to fret, and even to despair.
Some say that 2020 will end up being the worst year in all our lives. That might be an exaggeration, but people who suffered and died from COVID, and their families, along with people who lost their jobs or homes, and those who suffered through the endless political fighting—might think it’s a pretty good description.
One thing is true: almost no one has made it through this year without some pain, be it emotional, financial, or physical. and that’s why I am calling today for faith and hope.
Hebrews, chapter 1 says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We hope for so many good things, and faith assures us that we will receive them, even if we don’t see them right away.
Hope looks to the future. Hope is that glimmer of light on the darkest night. Hope is the promise of a better life—here on earth and forever in heaven. Hope is the power that allows us to keep going, even when it may look pointless.
And faith is the assurance that what we hope for will come to us. It is a firm conviction that, even if we cannot see how good might come, it will.
Advent is our season of hope this year, in a time of conflict, confusion, and loss.
We light one candle in the darkness of a world that is weary of sickness, fighting, and sin. That one little candle represents the truth, the reality, that we hope for something better—whether that comes in this life or the next.
The pain that we feel today is real for us, just as it was during wars, and plagues, and natural disasters for generations before us.
The benefits that we enjoy today—in medicine, technology, knowledge—are proof that hope leads to better times, better things.
And in case our hope seems fleeting, or unlikely, we fall back on that superpower that each of us possesses: faith.
We light that candle with hope; we light it in faith—in God, in the promises of Jesus, in the future.
All we need to do now is to carry that little flame of light out into the dark world and let it shine.