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Advent 1:  Hope

Happy New Year!  Before you think I have completely lost my mind, let me explain---today is a new year.  No, we haven’t fast forwarded to January 1st; it isn’t Chinese New Year or anything like that, today is Advent Sunday, the new year in the Church’s calendar, it is the beginning of the Church year. 

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day and ends on Christmas Eve at sundown. Advent is a four-week time of preparation before Christmas, it is a time for hopes and dreams.  In advent, we are anticipating the arrival of the baby Jesus as well as the second coming of Christ.  As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles each week to remind us that we do not face the darkness alone but that, indeed, the light of the world has come, shining on in the darkness to illumine our lives and lead us forth not in fear but courage, joy and hope. 

Advent Calendars are about waiting in expectation of something happening. But waiting isn’t something of a virtue in society today.  We don’t always want to wait.  We live in an on-demand culture where everything has to be there when we want it.  We have to have the latest DVD, or latest gadget or piece of new technology now.  People often queue outside shops for days sometimes to be the first to get their hands on something new.  Some people cannot wait.  A jigsaw puzzle isn’t finished on demand, it takes time, it takes patience.  Advent is all about waiting, about wondering, about preparing ourselves for the celebration of the coming of Christ. 

On this first Sunday of Advent we reflect on hope.  This may be a hope in the promised Messiah, it may be a hope for the world that peace may prosper, or a hope that God’s kingdom may be more fully visible, vivid in our actions.  Advent reminds us of the past miracles and the present hope for the future event.  The wreath and candles are a great visual tool to help us remember what we have and what we are hoping for.  The circle wreath represents God.  It is a circle to symbolize God’s eternity, endless mercy.  God has no beginning and no end.  It is green because green is a colour of hope.  The green reminds us of the hope we have in God, newness, renewal, eternal life. 

Advent is a season that invites us to think seriously about the meaning of time and how we use it.  Time is a precious gift from God, which gives us the opportunity to live as people of hope, peace, joy and love.  The scripture that was read from Isaiah is one of the most hope filled passages of the Bible. 

The word ‘hope’ is all around us. Many hymns contain the word hope:

*O hopeful love, that promises tomorrow

*Your people long to greet you, my hope, my heart’s delight

*a candle of hope, in December’s dark night

It was interesting when I started thinking about ‘hope’ for today how many times I heard or used the word ‘hope’ in my everyday world. 

What is hope?  According to Dr. Andrew, Hope is one of our central emotions, but we are often at a loss when asked to define it.  Many of us confuse hope with optimism, a prevailing attitude that things will turn out for the best.  But hope differs from optimism.  Hope does not arise from being told to think positively, or from hearing an overly rosy forecast.  Hope, unlike optimism, is rooted in unalloyed reality.  Although there is no uniform definition of hope, I found one that seemed to capture what my patients taught me.  Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see----in the mind’s eye----a path to a better future.  Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along the path.  True hope has no room for delusion.

At the end of verse 5 from Isaiah today, it reads, “let us walk in the light of the Lord!” Hope is a positive expectation that something good is going to happen to you because of God’s great goodness.      

I think we can all agree that hope is not something we can touch, see, smell or hear, rather it is something that we feel deep in our soul.  The absence of hope can be life-draining.  The presence of hope can be life-giving. 

I believe that hope is a journey that we all take, supported by the presence of God.  When we travel through difficult, confusing or uncertain times, our hope gives us that belief that there is a destination which is going to leave us in a better place than when we started.  At those times of life when we run the risk of being overwhelmed by problems, trouble and worry, hope allows us to hold on to the promise of a blessing of God for us, even when we cannot imagine that any kind of blessing might be possible. 

There are two types of hope, the garden variety which says things like “I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend”  Or the Winnipeg man that was holding hope our for his beloved Blue Bombers to win the Grey cup, vowing to wear shorts until his team won----18 years later he is now wearing pants.  These are ways we use the word ‘hope’ but really have nothing to do with the deepest longings and aspirations of the soul.  But there is a far more important and significant kind of hope, and this kind of hope, like faith not only touches the recesses of the soul, it too, like faith, is a gift from God made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Regardless of who you are or what conditions your life is in, you can’t function successfully without hope in God.  If circumstances are bad, you surely need hope.  And if they are good, you need hope that they will stay that way!

Hope is confidence that something we desire will happen.  Hope looks to the future and that our dreams will become reality.  Hope defined by the U.S. man reunited with his lost cat after 5 years.  It may take awhile but don’t give up hope. Hope has the power to fill our lives with happiness. 

Hope is a conscious and intentional choice; encompassing both darkness and light, it leads to compassionate and courageous actions.  This is where I marvel at those people that can be in a dark place but make compassionate and courageous actions, that can use the power of hope to help overcome their suffering.  It brings to mind the Trish’s Wish Foundation.   In March of 2000, Trish Peters was 17 years old when she was diagnosed with Osteo Sarcoma, the same type of cancer Terry Fox had. Living in Little Britain at the time, she had to travel to hospitals in Toronto for treatments on a regular basis. In May of 2004 the Community of Little Britain organized a very successful 12 Km Walk-A-Thon which helped out Trish's Family. It was Trish's wish to carry on this event to help others. Imagine a brave young girl sharing hope with others as she was dying.  This foundation has given 28 families “hope” by giving them collectively $300,000.00 for medical expenses.  Hope can come in the form of financial support.  Another example I want to share that I just read about this week is about the family of Anne Marie D’Amico who was a victim of the van attack on Yonge Street and her family have created a foundation to help end violence against women.  “She just loved giving back so we want to continue that in her legacy.”  A compassionate action made by a family when darkness had overcome them in the death of their daughter.  And an action that now brings hope to women that are targets of violence. I just want to share one more example of a family friend name Lori. This week I had the privilege of listening to her youtube video titled “Lori’s fertility journal, her hardest life lesson.  She talks about her struggles with getting pregnant but when listening to her use the words “5 years was very long and very dark” and “I hope that somebody can find hope in my story.”  It once again reminds us that when we are in dark places, we need to find hope, that is what God wants us to do, not only find the hope but share that hope with others.   If these aren’t examples of sharing hope, then I’m not sure what is. For these families, hope was being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. Hope enables us to endure hardships and God uses these times to develop character and endurance in us.   

People need hope during times of darkness, that hope is Christ.  So often hope is crippled by despair, the feeling that there is nothing more that can be done, no chance of improvement and little chance of healing family problems, financial problems, health problems, lack of civility, and the threat of wars and ceaseless conflict.  Even Christians whose life’s foundation is the solid rock of Jesus Christ may find at times, it difficult to find hope.  And that is okay as long as we remember how important hope is in that it can make the present moment less difficult to bear and if we believe that tomorrow will be better we can bear a hardship today.   

So where does real hope come from?  Scripture tells us where to look for hope.  The Bible tells us that despite the trauma and tragedies of life, God is still in charge.  No situation is without hope.  You don’t need a ton of hope to get you through difficult situations, just a sliver will keep you going.  Have courage and hang onto hope.  Recall the evidences of God’s grace in your life.  Have there not been times when He has taken care of you, times when you had all but given up hope only to have the cloud removed and the sun to shine once again.  It reminds me of a cute quote I read one day that said “so far I have got through 100% of my bad days.”  Don’t give up on hope.  There is reason to believe!  As Martin Luther states, “everything that is done in this world is done by hope.”

We don’t know how or when but we trust that God will come again into our lives with love, forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.  That’s what hope is.  That’s what Advent is about.  When we live like Jesus, we bring hope into the world.  I challenge you during this season of Advent to have eyes that are open to those who could use the gentle touch of Christ’s love because they need to know that there is hope and when we open our eyes to someone in need and fulfill that need we are bringing the hope of Jesus into the world. 

Hope can be a powerful force.  Maybe there’s no actual magic in it, but when you know what you hope for most and hold it like a light within you, you can make things happen, almost like magic.

I just want to share a little joke about a man that hoped his kids would come home at Christmas.

An elderly man in Oklahoma calls his son in New York and says “I don’t want to ruin your day son, but I have to tell you your mother and I are getting a divorce; 45 years of marriage…..and now it’s over.”  “Dad, what are you talking about?” the son yells.  “We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the dad explained.  “We’re sick of each other and I’m tired of talking about this so you call your sister in Hong Kong and tell her!”  Frantic, the son calls his sister and she explodes on the phone “they are not getting a divorce, I’ll take care of this.”  She calls her elderly father immediately and says to him “you are not getting divorced.  Don’t do a single thing until I get there.  I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow.  Until then, don’t do a thing.”  The father hangs up the phone and smiles at his wife and says “okay”, “it’s all set.  They’re both coming for Christmas and paying their own air-fare.”

Always have hope! Amen

Maxine Jordan