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Advent is a Time of Hope

December 6, 2020

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Advent, Year B. The readings are Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3:8-14 and Mark 1:1-8.

Holy darkness, blessed night
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight
As we await you, O God of silence
We embrace your holy night.

Holy Darkness, by Dan Schutte

 Last week, we heard that it seems that this year there has been so much darkness. But that we can take that darkness – that can sometimes be an un-holy darkness- and turn it into a holy darkness. Our pastor told us that everywhere we turn nowadays, it seems that all we hear – whether it’s in the news or anywhere – are messages of doubt, despair and fear. It’s easy to fall into doubt, despair and fear, but as Christians, we must always respond to doubt, despair and fear, with its opposites: faith, hope and love. Our pastor reminded us last week of how important faith and trust are in order to fight doubt – and how we must always ask God to increase our faith, so that we don’t fall in doubt. (Go to Holy Martyrs of Japan’s YouTube channel to listen to our pastor’s homily last week.)

Today, we are going to speak about hope.

 I think this is perfect because Advent is a time of hope. We are waiting for someone to come – that’s hope. In fact, in Scriptures, depending on what translation you have, sometimes the word “wait” is translated as “hope” – like in Psalm 27, it may say, “wait for the Lord”, but in other translations it may say, “hope in the Lord.” Advent also happens, for half of the world, in a time of darkness. So it’s hope in darkness: holy darkness. I can’t help but think that Jesus was born at night. So it’s a holy night.

That’s why all the readings during Advent are about hope. Isaiah: all about hope. He’s writing to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon. They’ve lost everything and they are in despair – so he speaks to them words of hope: The Messiah is coming – and he’s like a shepherd who feeds his flock and carries the lambs in his arms. Hope. If you think about it, the whole New Testaments, the Gospels and the Epistles were also written during a time of great tribulation. The early Church was a persecuted Church. People were despairing and so these were written to give people hope. The 2nd Letter of St. Peter that we read today, was likely written during the persecution of Nero. So many Christians were killed at that time. So it is written as a message of hope: Jesus will come again soon. Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope because for God a thousand years are like one day and God will not be slow on his promise. Hope. I guess, even John the Baptist was a messenger of hope.  We sometimes think that John was always kind of angry with “repent” all the time, but it must’ve been hopeful because people from all over the Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem came to see him. They wouldn’t have come if he was just angry at them. He must’ve given them hope. They were a people in despair, hoping for an end to Roman occupation and he gave them hope: The Messiah is coming. Get ready for He is coming! Hope.

Hope is like a flame, a light. When we give people hope, we are lighting a candle in the darkness. The worst thing we can do to someone is take away their hope. When we take away their hope we are blowing out that flame. That’s what the Nazis did: they took everything away from people, their possessions, their dignity and their hope – well, at least they tried. There are so many Holocaust survivors who talk about how they hung on to hope. One holocaust survivor says that while in the train on the way to the concentration camp her mother said to her that they couldn’t take away from her what was in her mind. She was 6 years old. When they arrived at the camp, her mother was taken straight into the gas chambers – but this little girl never forgot what her mother told her – “they can’t take away what is in my mind.” She hung on to that hope. And she survived. Another holocaust survivor says that she would make up little games every day, like trying to find four pebbles that were exactly the same. That kept her busy but it also gave her hope because if she could find four pebbles that were exactly the same, that would mean that the four members of her family, her parents, her sister and herself would survive. That gave here hope and she hung on to that hope. And she survived.

If we want people to live, we give them hope.

There’s a cartoon, Hägar the Horrible – do you know that one? The viking, Hägar? Anyway, in one of the cartoons, Hagar is complaining about something or other to a monk and the monk says to him, “you know, it’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. Hagar thinks about that for a moment and then he says, “yeah , but I prefer to curse the darkness.” It’s so easy to curse the darkness; To complain; To fall into despair and then to spread that despair all over the place. But it is much better to give hope; To light a candle. It is our mission, our job as Christians to give people hope. That’s what Christians do. Because Jesus Christ is our hope. Jesus Christ is the Light of the world. No one else can bring Jesus into the world. Only Christians can do that. That’s our mission. I heard an interview recently with Sr. Helen Prejean – she’s the author of Dead Man Walking. She has dedicated her life to fighting for the abolition of the death penalty in the U.S. She was being interviewed because next Thursday there’s a scheduled execution of a federal inmate in Texas. She was asked if she thought that there was still hope for this man. She said, “of course there’s hope because he’s alive. Whenever there is life, there is hope.” Wherever there is life, there is hope! I would say that even when there isn’t life, there is still hope, because Jesus Christ is alive and He is our hope! 

Jesus Christ is our Advent!

We can live our lives just responding to what’s happening all around us with doubt, despair and fear. We may do and say things that are motivated by doubt, despair and fear – but how much better would the world be if everything we did was motivated by faith, hope and love? How about we make a commitment today to bring hope everywhere we go? You may feel that you don’t have any hope left. You are so deep in despair that you can’t give hope to anyone. Then, I say, remember the words of Isaiah in the first reading today. God tells us to “comfort, comfort my people.” If you are despairing, go and comfort someone else. Stop thinking about yourself and think about someone else. 

This Advent season (and maybe from now on, all the time), let’s make an extra effort to comfort God’s people by giving hope to all those around us.  At home, at work, at school, with a stranger – let’s share a candle of hope with someone. It may be as simple as saying Merry Christmas. At the grocery store, say Merry Christmas. When you go shopping, say Merry Christmas. If you’re doing online shopping, maybe you have a chance to send in a note or comment about your order  – or when you review your purchase, type in “Merry Christmas.” Give someone a smile, a phone call, a text message saying “I’m thinking about you.” If you decorate your house with the words, “peace”, maybe this year it should say “hope”. Maybe you can be extra generous with the foodbank  – as you prepare the package, throw in a little note with a message of hope.  Make that your Christmas gift this year. Let’s light candles of hope all around us.

And we’ll see how easy it is to turn that darkness turns into a holy darkness; to turn that night, into a Holy Night.

Holy darkness, blessed night
Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight
As we await you, O God of silence
We embrace your holy night

From → English, Reflections

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