It was the first Sunday in Advent, time to light the Advent Candle of Hope. The children were singing, “Hope is a Star that shines in the night”. Anticipation filled the air. Only 22 more sleeps until Christmas!
What were the hopes dreamed of in the hearts of those gathered? Peace on earth? The earth’s biosphere healed? Cures for the great diseases found? Care for all who were broken, weary, lost?
Hope. Maybe folk were hoping Christmas would be less stressful this year. Perhaps they longed for family and friends to find joy and not to be consumed by passing crisis. They might simply hope for a little peace in their day. Some, I’m certain, hoped the Leafs would win the Cup...but alas there are limits to our Advent wishes.
Hope. I was working with a congregation who was taking the great leap of faith to renew their church facility as they sought to renew their ministry and mission. The word “hope” would be featured in their going forward campaign. One evening as we met I invited them to reflect and share what words of hope come quickly to mind when they hear the word hope.
Each was encouraged to quickly think of a word for each letter in the word Hope. The sharing was rich. The possibilities limitless.
When I did the same exercise in preparation for the study time an interesting theological insight moment occurred. These were the words which emerged:
Each is powerful in its own right.
Yet gathered as they are they became reflective of the covenant, new and renewed.
Think of it as pre- and post-Emmanuel time. Advent Hope and Epiphany Hope revealed.
As covenant people, Israel put hope into practice. Hospitality was shown to strangers, neighbours, foreigners and visitors. There was a oneness in community with the people of God. They shepherded all under their care modelling Pastoral ways. All was done in a spirit of expectancy as they prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
The renewed covenant experienced in Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, sacrifice, death and resurrection is to be seen and celebrated in hope fulfilled. The life of the Body of Christ was and is to serve the world with Healing loving care. To bind up the wounded, to release the captives, to love into wholeness all of God’s children.
Openness is to be practised in community. No longer are we to be separated by gender, faith, social status, nationality. Rather, we are to open the doors of our homes and our hearts so all may be one.
Our mission is to bring the living word to life. We are called to be prophetic, to share a new vision to a world longing to be made new. All of this and more is informed and enlivened by the Spirit of God. Enthusia moves us and carries us forward in faithfulness.
Maybe only an old preacher would find joy in these hope words. But we need hope every day.
Year after year as I have shared in the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life I have been moved to see the large letters of the word hope spelled out in glowing luminaries, each candle an offering, each a dynamic memorial. Often it is teams of high school students who create the lighted declaration as they climb high in the night carrying the lights. Hope speaks to all ages and can take the darkness away.
In the musical “Damn Yankees”, the story of a hapless ball team, a coach offers these words in a famous locker room pep talk,
“You’ve gotta have heart,
Miles and miles and miles
When the odds are saying
You can win,
That when the grin should start.
You gotta have hope.
Mustn’t sit around and mope.
Not a solitary sigh do we heave,
Mister if we got hope...”
This Advent, put hope into practice. Give thanks to God as you sing a Gloria or two.
Rev. Lonnie S. Atkinson is a retired Presbyterian minister. A guest sermon runs regularly in Saturday’s Guardian and is provided through Christian Communications.