Yesterday, my wife began Advent with a sermon on Hope. Her text was from Romans. When she and I were talking about her sermon, I was struck by how clear she was on the active nature of hope.
Three weeks from today is Christmas Eve. There are few seasons where waiting, counting the days until the Big Event, are as painful and awful as Christmas. Indeed, the kid in all of us secretly wishes that all this waiting could be over, and we could be gathered around an already-decorated tree, with already-wrapped presents, enjoying already-made hot chocolate. Instant gratification, thy name is not the Christmas season.
Yet, Advent calls us not only to wait, to anticipate, to look forward to this "new thing" that God is doing. We are called, should we heed the prophet Isaiah, to be comforted, because the time is at hand when God will deliver us. We live, however, in a time when that doesn't seem to be a meaningful statement. The fact is, all the blather of "redemption" and "grace" seem pretty meaningless in our world right now (actually, they seem pretty meaningless most of the time, because, in truth, our world is a shitty mess most of the time). What possible reason can the Church give for us to hope for something better? Should one consider the topics taken up by this blog, our leaders are cowardly liars, our press is sycophantic stenographers, and there just doesn't seem to be a way to get some of those in charge to listen to what the people of America want. The political process seems detached from anything we say or do. Hope, in this instance, is frustrated time and again by a radical disconnect between the public's desire for action and the politicians' desires for nothing at all to happen.
This is why Advent is important. We are called upon to wait. To watch. To look. Hope is not something passive (as the good Rev. Lisa said, "I hope I get a Wii" isn't really hope at all; neither is "I hope I win the lottery"). Hope is doing something about the way things are, and are wrong. She used the example of the woman who was the driving force behind the Landmine Convention, signed by the civilized world, but not the United States. We could add others - William Sloane Coffin and SANE/Freeze; Clara Barton and the Red Cross; Florence Nightingale and the professionalization of nursing; the Berrigans and the anti-war movement. There are others, most of whom go unremarked and unremembered by grand histories, who nonetheless make a difference, maybe in the neighborhoods in which we live. The thing is - this is the source of our hope.
They don't have to be specifically Christian. In fact, most "Christian" efforts to make the world a better place end up not doing very well. Yet, this is what Advent is about. We are waiting, not just for December 25, but for the promise of Isaiah, and John the Baptist, and even Jesus, to become a reality. In the meantime, it isn't in God's hands to be about the work of making our world better, safer, saner. Or, perhaps, a better way to put it is to say that we are God's hands in this effort. We are the ones who should be making the world better, safer, and saner.
I do not look to politics or politicians to make much of a difference, because the system itself is pretty corrupt, and nothing will make much of dent there. I do look to individuals and groups who are gathered together to make just one small change. Like the birth of a baby in a small town in a forgotten corner of the world so long ago, these have far more potential impact than something done in some seat of power somewhere. My hope does not lie in thinking anything I do, or others do, will change the world. I would like to think, however, that it is possible to change my own little corner of the world.
I hope so.