The Collect for the First Sunday in AdventAlmighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.-Romans 15:13New Revised Standard Version
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!-Romans 15:13The Message
But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.– Barbara Kingsolver
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering ‘it will be happier’.– Alfred Lord Tennyson
When I was in seminary, our New Testament professor gave us this assignment: Write a parable. Sound simple? Try it some time. It’s harder than you might think. As if we needed it, it helps us recognize Jesus’ genius. I wrote a few really bad ones. I wrote one about Advent, which I often bring out at this time of year. Actually, like many good stories, it sort of wrote itself. Sorry if you’ve heard it before. It goes like this.
The experience of Advent is like unto that season in my life when I commuted from the suburbs into Manhattan. That daily trek involved a train ride, on tracks that ran along the Hudson River. In winter, commuting took place in darkness. Seasoned commuters gathered on the platform, clustered in precise intervals, knowing exactly where the doors on the train would open. It seemed to be a law of the universe that the colder and windier the morning, the longer the train was delayed. Delay happened often. Sometimes the train didn’t show up at all, which led to a scramble for other ways to get to work. One could never predict. So standing in our clusters on those dark, chilly mornings, anxiety could be high. We would look up the train track, craning to see far into the distance. And waiting.
And then one could see the tiniest bit of light on the track. So very faint. But that first, little bit of light changed everything. For me, there was a sigh of relief. Don’t get me wrong. I was still cold. The wind penetrated. I was not yet on the train. But I knew that soon and very soon it would arrive. That bit of light, perhaps comparable to the first candle lit on an Advent wreath, changed everything. It changed not only my expectation of the future, but also the way I navigated the present dark, anxious, chilly moment until the train arrived.
I’m wondering how you might see that parable at work in the world. Maybe we witness it now, with the promise of a COVID vaccine. It’s not here yet, but as leaders have told us, there is light at the end of the tunnel. That small glimmer, yet unrealized, changes how we act now. I don’t know about you, but it has diminished my Corona-fatigue. It’s also encouraged me to keep doing the things (as annoying as they are) that mitigate spread. It’s made me take to heart the admonitions that what we do now is an expression of love of neighbor. The medical hope for the future changes how I live now.
That is the deal with Advent, as far as I can tell. It is a season focused on hope. That doesn’t mean we just sit around in a holding pattern. It means we conduct our lives right now, this Monday, confident in the promises of Christ’s coming, signified in that manger, but also arriving in each of our hearts, in each of our encounters, in each of our responses to a world in need, in our communities, in our big and beautiful and broken world.
At the church where I am presently privileged to serve, our focus this season is on everyday hope. We’re asking folks to consider ways that hope can shape our thoughts, words and deeds right now, in the midst of considerable coincident crises. Wherever you find yourself as Advent begins, you might want to consider the ways that you can hold on to hope. And as you’re doing all that, play the 1965 Curtis Mayfield hit, a great Advent hymn, which has this refrain:
People get ready. There’s a train a-coming. You don’t need no baggage. You just get on board. All you need is faith. To hear the diesels humming. You don’t need no ticket. You just thank the Lord. So people get ready.
Our guest presenter will be the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, Canon for Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation and Creation Care for the Presiding Bishop.
Stephanie is a gift to the church, with a joyful heart for the Jesus movement. She is a good friend of RenewalWorks and has volumes to share with us about discipleship and evangelism. Join us and invite others.