Hope means having faith in something you cannot see.
Hope means believing even when you don’t have reason to believe.
Hope means waiting for a change.
Hope means holding on, even when the sun is darkened and the stars fall from heaven.
Many of us understand the kind of hope that we feel when a sliver of sunlight breaks through the clouds on a cold rainy day. We know how to have hope even when the sun doesn’t peak through the rain clouds because we’ve learned that the sun is still up there; we know that we will feel its warmth eventually. We hope in it, even though we cannot see it.
Most of us understand the kind of hope that it takes to endure winter until spring comes. We hold onto the hope that the sycamore and maple and oak trees are just sleeping, that the daffodil and iris bulbs are simply hibernating in the frozen earth, and that they will each share their colors again next season. We remember how the days grew longer last year as winter melted into spring, and we trust that it will happen again this year. Even for those who love the snow and ice, who marvel to see frost patterns on a window pane, there is still the knowledge that the earth will again feel the sun’s warmth and spring will come.
Many of us understand and have experienced that kind of hope.
But the hope of Advent is not so simple or predictable. The hope of Advent dares to claim something much more impossible.
You see, our hope that the sun will shine after the rain, our hope that spring will bloom after the cold winter, even our hopes for social and economic injustice, are based upon our trust that systems balance themselves out. We trust that the system of weather patterns and moisture and air pressure will produce sunlight after rain. We believe that the system of earth’s rotation and its orbit around the sun will reliably bring our hemisphere closer to the sun again. We hope that an unseen social system of human attitudes will balance itself toward justice after it has tipped to the extreme.
We hope because we recognize the patterns within familiar systems.
But the hope of Advent does not rely on patterns or predictability or the balancing of systems.
The hope of Advent holds onto God, believes in God’s goodness, not just through rain or winter or injustice, but even when the rain never ends, even if spring never comes, even when the balance of justice doesn’t return. Advent hope holds onto God even when the systems and familiar patterns that we rely on, that we so often place our hope in, fail.
So even when the sun fades and the moon fails to rise, Advent says “Have hope.” Even when Orion’s Belt falls from the heavens and the Pleiades — the Seven Sisters of the sky — part ways from one another. Even when the familiar balances between day and night, winter and spring, cease to exist because the planetary beings themselves fall out of orbit and die away. Even when the systems that we trust to keep power in check — laws and ethics and reason and human decency — fade like the sun and injustice seems to have no counterbalance to offer a glimmer of light.
Even then, Advent says “Have hope.”
Even then Jesus says, “The truth and goodness of God will not fail.”
Advent hope believes that God can make a new day dawn, not just in the morning hours when we expect it, but even in the middle of the night: like a sunrise suddenly, unexpectedly, bursting onto the eastern horizon at 1:00am just as the raccoons are scouring for food, just as the owl is rushing down upon its unsuspecting prey, just as an infant is crying out for a middle-of-the-night feeding, just as the world has settled into its nighttime patterns.
Advent hope holds on to God making the most unexpected, possible — like a sunrise in the dead of night — breaking the norms and patterns and systems in which we otherwise place our hope. Advent hope claims that it is precisely when the world is falling apart, precisely the moment when we cry out “All hope is lost!” that our hopes are fulfilled because then the way has been cleared for God to do a new thing.
Let us abandon our hope in this world’s systems and settle into a wild Advent hope, so that God is released to do the unexpected among us!
Come, O Savior Jesus. Come and be among us, because your people are crying out that they have lost hope. The usual systems that we trust, the familiar gods that we worship, have failed us. Let your face shine like the bright sun rising unexpected in the middle of a dark night, and save us. You have shaken us loose from our comforts. Now restore our hope in the unexpected. Amen.
11/27/11 sermon based on Psalm 80:1-4, 17-19 and Mark 13:24-33; preached at Grace UCC.