“Hope springs eternal in the human heart” claimed Alexander Pope in his poem “An Essay on Man”. These days that spring looks pretty worn and wound down. “Resilience”, that much-vaunted quality we are all encouraged to develop in the face of life’s headwinds and hardships is running low.
To watch the news is to find yourself with a ringside seat view of the heart of darkness. This is indeed a weary world, battered by unrelenting sorrows and troubles: climate crisis, Israeli-Palestinian war and Russian-Ukraine war to simply pick the headlines, never mind to point out our personal burdens.
O Holy Night, the wonderful carol, by Adolphe Adam captures this uneasy tension in our lives straddling a world mired in error and evil and the thrill of a hope stirred by the birth of Jesus, Messiah.
Advent, the season that anticipates Christmas, begins in the darkness of a weary world. It invites us to face this “present evil age” even as we anchor our hope in the promise of the coming of the king in triumphant glory (his second “advent”). This hope, advent reminds us, is not a pipedream to pep up the gloomy but a reality already achieved because light has entered the darkness in Jesus.
Advent hope begins in the darkness.
Writer Barbara Brown Taylor says, “Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark”.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” prophesies Isaiah (9:2) in our text this Sunday. Why? Because “unto to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”
Isaiah says hope comes from God’s hand in the “dirty glory” of a human childbirth. Hope comes as gift, the incursion of God into the flesh of humanity, light into darkness. (John 1:9) Advent reminds us that hope has landed in person, on planet Earth.
Yet hope is future-focused, located in God’s promise to make all things new. It is this future vision that fuels and invigorates the Christian disciple and pacifies our world-weary souls.
Atheist, academic and activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s profession of Christian faith has been one of 2023’s surprise stories. Her faith arose, she says, out of the ashes of her disenchantment with atheism because:
“I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable – indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?“
We humans need something to live for, a future vision to fix our eyes upon. We need hope as oxygen to enliven us in the emptiness and uncertainty of the present darkness.
Our Christmas theme, based on the carol, O Holy Night, invites us to consider the “thrill of hope” and find strength in the gift of God’s salvation. May you and those around you discover hope that begins, even in darkness this advent.
Here is a prayer for hope: (for the first Sunday of Advent) from Kate Bowler
God, these are darkening days,
with little hope in sight.
Help us in our fear and exhaustion.
Anchor us in hope.
Blessed are we with eyes open
to see the accumulated
suffering of danger,
sickness, and loneliness,
the injustice of racial oppression,
the unimpeded greed and misuse
of power, violence, intimidation,
and use of dominance for its own sake,
the mockery of truth,
and disdain for weakness or vulnerability
—and worse, the seeming powerlessness
of anyone trying to stop it.
Blessed are we who ask:
Where are you, God?
And where are Your people
—the smart and sensible ones
who fight for good and
have the power to make it stick?
Blessed are we who cry out:
Oh God, why does the bad
always seem to win?
When will good prevail?
We know you are good,
but we see so little goodness.
God, show me your heart.
How you seek out the broken,
lift us on your shoulders,
and carry us home—
no matter how weak we’ve become.
God, seek us out, and find us,
we your tired people,
and lead us out to where hope lies
where your kingdom will come
and your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Fill me with your courage.
Calm me with your love.
Fortify me with your hope.
P.S. Open your hands as you release your prayers.
Then take hold of hope.