Whether you find yourself in church this Advent or struggling to step foot in its doors,
it’s possible to experience the hope of Advent.
Hope can be a dangerous thing.
I’m not talking about the small hopes: I hope it snows for Christmas, I hope that jacket I’ve been eyeing goes on sale, I hope my favorite song comes on the radio…
No, I’m talking about the big hopes. The things we long for but are a little afraid to say out loud, lest they don’t come true and the words are still on our tongues. I hope the cancer goes into remission. I hope to find work, soon. I hope our country can find a way forward.
Hope can indeed be dangerous. Unmet hopes can be devastating.
And that’s probably why I don’t tend to hope for things much. I’m too much of a realist and don’t like to be let down. I was the kid who hoped for crayons and a book for Christmas – no ponies or gaming systems on my list. I usually assume the worst is going to happen, that way I can be pleasantly surprised if reality is anything slightly better than The Worst.
But I am starting to wonder if what I call “realism” is really a cop-out for not having hope… and worse, not acting on hope.
In the Revised Common Lectionary — a compilation of Scripture readings — the Old Testament reading for this week, the First Week of Advent, is Isaiah 2:1-5. It contains some of my favorite verses: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
I cannot fathom a world like the one Isaiah envisions. As a military spouse, our time is marked by deployments and war… dare I let myself hope for a world without war? Not just an end to wars my country is involved in, but an end to war everywhere in the world?
It seems far-fetched. There is no way this could ever become reality, not on this earth. Better not to hope at all than to have my dreams crushed, right? And yet, as I glance into the horizon and see the blurry outline of a star that appeared 2000 years ago in the east, I wonder if it really is far-fetched.
Maybe Isaiah’s vision has not come to fruition — yet — but maybe, just maybe, if we started acting on the hope of that vision, we’d get a little closer to it. 2000 years ago, long after Isaiah spoke those words, and in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and anxiety, God came to the world wrapped in flesh and dressed as hope.
When hope enters, it tells us that we are still in the middle of the story, writing together a chapter that can be beautiful or tragic — and maybe a little bit of both. It’s up to us to dream and to plan and to, dare I say, hope — so that the next chapter can be a little more beautiful than this one, with fewer weapons — even weapons made out of words and laws and prejudices — and more gardening tools.
When I let myself hope and imagine a world like the one Isaiah describes, even a realist like me can start to see glimpses of this beauty around me. Hope enters every time people are reconciled with each other. Hope enters every time one person chooses to put the needs of another before their own, every time we seek to understand the experiences of others before demanding our own way.
This Advent, even though the world around me seems pretty hopeless, I will look for glimpses of hope wherever I can. But more importantly, I will choose to act on that hope, so maybe, just maybe, others can see it too.