Arise, O Jerusalem, stand upon the height;
look toward the east, and see your children gathered from west and east at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that God has remembered them. Baruch 5:5
When I was a child my mother had a habit of commenting on every situation with some appropriate, pithy saying. “If you’re going to act like horses, go to the barn”, came up pretty frequently with my brothers, and “that child would fight a circle saw” was a reference to my sister’s stubbornness. My favorite was “if wishes were fishes we would all cast nets”. But by far the most common and most pertinent to our lives was “we live in hope”.
Even when our family life was at its most difficult….when the economy stalled and there was no building work for my father…or when bad weather destroyed a good portion of the harvest…even in the face of illness and death…always “we live in hope”. Looking back on our family life I realize that this was much more than just something my mother said to cheer everyone up. It was a reflection of the faith in God’s providence that kept us moving forward…getting up every day to work and share and love, even when life was hard and painful. Whatever happened there was a belief that, while in this moment it looks pretty bad, tomorrow things will be better. I think it was this underlying faith in the goodness of God and humanity that made a space for joy, even in sad days….and there was much joy and laughter in the lives of my family and our neighbors…all poor, country, people who worked hard and were generous and kind…even to the one weird daughter who never quite seemed to fit.
This season always draws my mind back to home and family….memories from a faraway place and a long ago time. I suspect that is the case for many of us. But I am aware that these types of reflections can be very painful for some. Not every parent is a good parent and not every family is a happy one. But as my Mama said, “we live in hope” …hope that the lives we have a hand in shaping are somehow better.
Advent is all about hope…the Hebrew children hoping for the arrival of the Messiah….generations of Christians hoping for the Lord’s return….. non-religious folks hoping for a little “peace on earth”, even if it lasts only until the Christmas lights go out. The more informed we become…the more we open our eyes to suffering of those around us, both near and far…the more difficult it becomes to find those moments of hope. The problems of the world seem so great and our ability to make any sort of change seems so limited. Yet, I do believe that we are called to be a people that lives in hope…trusting the God remains faithful in loving us and that there is some higher purpose for our lives and for this world.
The people of God have been dreaming of peace for thousands of years. Even while wars were raging….even in the midst of oppression and slavery…still the prophets looked ahead to a time when humanity would lose its taste for blood and power and the weapons of war would be remade into tools for farming and trade. The coming of the Messiah was supposed to herald the beginning of a peaceful age, when all nations would learn the way of peace. But even while the prophets were awaiting the arrival of the “Prince of Peace” other believers wished and hoped for a military leader who would lead the rebellion and overthrow those in power. There are always people who do not trust in peaceful solutions but think that violence can only be overcome by more violence.
This has not changed. If anyone should see that it should be us, who live in a culture that worships the weapons of destruction…large and small. There is apparently a gun for every occasion and many are far too eager to use them….to intimidate…to terrorize …and to hide their own fear. At the same time our government and private companies do a huge business in arming other nations for conflict. There is profit in the instruments of war. Arms dealers do not care which side is right or wrong as long as there is a market for their products. With war so profitable to some there is no real incentive to make peace…even when standing in the rubble that we have made of the homes and lives of the citizens whose leaders keep finding reasons to fight.
This is not new…it is typical of the human condition….and yet still “we live in hope”. We say our prayers for peace and hope that God hears them. But peace will not come until we truly want peace. Until we learn the lessons Jesus died trying to teach us we will keep fighting and killing and dying.
In our Gospel reading for today, Luke tells us of the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist. John, who had his first encounter with Jesus while he was still in him mother’s womb came as the forerunner ….the last great prophet…to declare the arrival of God’s anointed….the Messiah. John came first to call people to repentance so that they would be in a right relationship with God and able to recognize the Lord when he came. John lived every day in hope …expecting to see the one whom God had sent to save the world. At the time I do not think he knew it would be his cousin Jesus but John believed that he would recognize the Messiah when he saw him. John’s hope was in God and he trusted that message he had received from God was real. John would be the last great prophet for he would live to see what all of the others had only hoped for….the face of the Messiah…the One who would bring God’s salvation to the world and who would lead God’s people into the way of peace.
Humanity did not recognize the Lord at his first coming. Despite having the words of generations of prophets and despite doing lip service to a desire to be pleasing to God, they could not or would not hear the message of love and peace that the Messiah brought. While they had lived their lives in hope looking for the one who would carry out God’s plan of salvation…he was not what they had expected…so they did not recognize him.
How often do we miss the blessing from God because it comes in a form we do not expect? We pray faithfully and ask God to intervene on our behalf and yet we do not leave ourselves open to the possibility that God may answer our prayer in a way that is different than we anticipate. The Holy Spirit moves where she wills and knows the deepest truths about us…things we do not recognize or accept in ourselves. It is to our true selves that God responds. We must not try to inhibit or box the Holy Spirit for in Christ all things are possible. We can do…we can be… so much more than we imagine with the help and inspiration of God. This does not mean that God is going to save us from our own folly. But if we repent of our sins I believe that the Lord will help us make amends to those we have offended or hurt. There will still be consequences to face, but we will be better able to bear them.
Brothers and sisters…in this season of Advent, as we wait for or Lord’s return and prepare to celebrate his first Incarnation, let us not give up our hope for peace…for goodwill….for love on a grand scale. At the same time may we be faithful to make peace….share goodwill and love fiercely those who are near to us….our family…our friends…our neighbors….that stranger on the bus…or in the pew next to us. If we begin where we are the effects of our love in action will spread to where we are not. It is never the wrong time to begin a good work. Every journey begins with a step forward. Let us go forth in peace…sharing love….and living in hope.