Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advent: The Hope

101 year old woman lights the Advent Wreath, 2014
photo by John Donaghy / flickr

One of my mentors, Carlyle Marney used to say, "When I get in trouble I always turn to the Psalter." Good advice for any of use pilgrims. During Advent this year the Common Book of Prayer has helped me once more. Under the Second Sunday in Advent the reading from the Psalms is Psalm 38.

I started reading and I almost stopped. This election has hit me hard. I have some friends that are very sick. Being 81 years old is not exactly a tea party. And Psalm 38 is a gloomy passage: "There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin."(via. 3) The writer continues: "For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me." (vs.4) Maybe the old writer just got carried away--Understatement. "My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes--it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off." (vs. 10-11) I waded through fourteen verses like this.

And then--liked a tiny light--maybe the two tiny lights of Advent--began with the fifteenth verse of this Psalm. "But it is for you, O Lord, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer." And maybe that's what Advent and faith are all about.

This Bible is realistic. More than the National Enquirer purports to be. The book deals powerfully with the hills and the valleys of our lives and the writers do not leave out the crooked places or the sins or the exiles or the terrible disappointments. But thank God the book does not stop there. Neither does faith. Neither does Advent. And neither does hope. Buechner says that if Paul were writing today he would change that Corinthians chapter. He would say today: Faith, Hope, Love--but the greatest of these is Hope.

I like the way Pamela Hawkins puts it: "Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light too make their way to us, even when we still stand in cold darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being. With hope, closely held interior thoughts are gently turned outward; deep desires, perhaps long hidden in secret corners of our heart, might be lifted up to the light."

All this reminds me of the words I heard Alex Haley say one night when he talked about his book, Roots. He said when he was a little boy in Henning, Tennessee he would get so depressed. And one day he had his head down on the kitchen table sobbing. He told that his Grandmother came over to him, put her arm around his shoulders and said, "Alex, we don't know when Jesus will come, but he will always come on time."

And that Grandmother was right. Alex Haley was a great writer. His book, Roots won a Pulitzer Prize, was translated into 37 languages. 130 million people watched the TV series that was made from his book. He helped African Americans get in touch with the richness of their history.

What does this have do with Advent and the Psalm I mentioned? Everything. Life is hard. This election makes many of us lose heart. Often we despair. Yet we still light candles and whisper prayers. And deep in our hearts, despite it all we really do believe that Jesus will always come on time.  

photo by fabfotofx / flickr

--Roger Lovette /

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