Third Sunday of Advent

Third Sunday of Advent

December 15, 2019

It is estimated that over 70 million people in the world are considered refugees right now, men women and children displaced from their homes and communities and countries.  They flee because of fear for their lives, because of persecution, because of hunger.  The gather their families and set off for unknown places because even unknown places are better than how they are living now.  They leave because they feel they have to or because someone else tells them they have to.  70 Million!  (That’s twice as many people that live in Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Iowa – COMBINED!) They come to places like Palestine and France, Belgium and Mexico, Costa Rica and, yes, the United States.

It is important to try to stretch our minds, to try to imagine what it must be like to be exiled from the only home and community we have even known, when war and injustice force innocent people from the very land upon which they and their ancestors have lived.  It is not hard to imagine, then, how hope could be diminished beyond recognition.  

It will also help us to imagine how the exiled people of Israel must have felt and how they clung to the words of the holy man Isaiah: “Be strong, fear not!  Here is your God…he comes to save you. Strengthen those hands that are feeble and make firm those knees that are weak.  (You) will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy.”  Can we even begin to imagine the hope that his message brought back to those people?!

Isaiah proclaimed what we all need to hear – not only those exiled from their homes, but all of us, when we are not where we would like to be:  physically limitations, age, struggles in our relationships or being in unfulfilling jobs, separated from family or feeling on the outside, different, separated from what others know or experience.  In those exiles we must remember that hope cannot be taken from us; it can’t be destroyed; it cannot pass from existence. Yes, it sometimes it takes the patience of a farmer waiting for the fruit of the earth after a long season before it bears fruit.  And sometimes it takes a complete redirection of our vision, as it did for the followers of John the Baptist.  Even in despair we a deeply hidden hope in a kingdom that is not yet ours lies within us, the Kingdom of God. 

We possess an astonishing capacity to hope in the face of the worst of situations, but sometimes the darkness of grief or loss clouds us so deeply that we need help to point us to the hope that stands before us.  Sometimes we get so beaten up by listening to voices of gloom and doom that do we need another voice to help us uncover the hope that lies within.  Sometimes when doubt takes root in our lives we need something to remind us of the seed of hope that lies at the core of every promise made.  Hope gets us through the worst of times.   

Cynicism does its best to cover it up.  Life’s struggles relentlessly try to cloud it.  Mental illness can sometimes rob us of its vision.  But it doesn’t go away, because it’s of God.  Others can try to take it away from us, but they can’t, at least not if we don’t let them.  It’s not theirs to take and it’s not ours to give away because God has placed it in us from the moment of our creation.   

Advent gives hope another chance, a renewed voice: for our relationships, our marriages, our community.  Hope can open doors and heal even the greatest of wounds.  Hope feeds the vision that it will get better than this:  the poor don’t have to face hunger and the imprisoned don’t have to face humiliation; our differences don’t have to divide us and the darkness of prejudice can be dispelled.  Because hope, in its God-given best, is what Christ gave to a waiting world.  And it still does.  Hope has come forever and hope is not about to leave.

 

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