SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Rev. Elizabeth Scheuerman
Scripture: Romans 15:4-13
4 What was written before, was written to teach us. Through those writings, we are encouraged. We find fortitude, and hope. 5 May the God who fortifies and encourages give you the same, to live with one another in Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8 For I tell you, Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, so as to confirm the promises of the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for God’s mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will give praise to you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name"; 10 and again he says, "Rejoice, Gentiles, with his people"; 11 and again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him"; 12 and again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope." 13 May the God of hope, in whom you trust, fill you with all joy and peace, until you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
May the God of hope, in whom you trust, fill you with all joy and peace, until you overflow with hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Season of Advent is one of waiting: waiting for the birth of a child, even as we know that that child will suffer and die; and waiting for the Second Coming of the Messiah, which, it is said, will be preceded by death and destruction. There is an anxiety, in the waiting of advent: implicitly, the present is unsatisfactory in some way, so we are looking towards the future. By at least some formulations, the second candle of Advent is lit for hope. But what enables hope? What gives us hope? What sustains hope?
As I try to write about hope, I am aware of feeling despair. A good part of that despair may be political: rather than looking forward to Christmas, I am dreading the coming of the new Congress in the United States. So far at least, much of what I had hoped for in the aftermath of the 2008 election, has not come to pass. I am feeling disappointed in our President (there, I’ve finally acknowledged that out loud), who came to office in a whirl of almost messianic expectations and hopes. I wonder if I should have supported Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama. Hatred, cynicism, ignorance, meanness, and callousness seem on the rise. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and more numerous. The future looks bleak. Meanwhile I am painfully aware of my own imperfections, inadequacies, and failings.
So I wonder, on a very personal level, what enables hope? What gives us hope? What sustains hope?
Paul says that he finds hope in the words of sacred texts… even though the scriptures of the Jews and the early Jewish Christians repeatedly tell stories of terrible things happening to God’s chosen people.
He finds hope by trusting in God…even though the person he believed to be the Messiah was cruelly crucified, even though the God he believed in allowed the Messiah to be crucified.
Paul suggests that living and worshiping in a community of common purpose helps to foster and sustain hope…even though he knows as well as anyone how sharp the divisions are, how rare common purpose is, in religious communities.
Welcome one another, Paul says, even as he knows how difficult it is for Gentiles and Jews to really welcome one another.
Yet, in spite of all that he has witnessed, Paul still passionately believes in the need for religious community; he still believes in the possibility that people of diverse backgrounds may be of one accord, participating in and manifesting the Body of God.
Practicing hospitality by truly welcoming one another is a way of living as if we what we hope for is already here. I’m reminded of words from Rumi’s poem, The Guest House:
This being human is a guest house
every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!...
Oh, how hard it is to welcome a depression, a meanness. Let alone “a crowd of sorrows…The dark thought, the shame, the malice” that Rumi speaks of welcoming—gratefully!—later in the poem.
And yet, although fear, doubt, pain, conflict, and despair are not what I want to welcome, they are what give rise to hope. If we were living in Eden and not in fear of exile, we would have no need of hope. When we are absolutely certain that some desired future event will happen, (say, that the sun will rise tomorrow), we have no need of hope. A prerequisite for hope is some sort of dissatisfaction with the present.
Paradoxically, hope allows us to enter paradise now: this seems the message of Paul’s final words in the lectionary reading for Sunday. The God of hope fills us now, in this horribly imperfect present, with joy and with peace (shalom); through the Holy Spirit, we are not only filled with hope, we overflow with hope. Our fears, our confusion, our despair are vanquished once more.
Oh may it be so. In this Advent season, may I, may you, may we find our way from despair to hope, to paradise now.
Prayer (drawing on Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things):
Oh God of hope, help me to trust in You. Help me to savor the beauty of this world. Lead me to the presence of still water. Help me to feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. Help me to take time to rest in the grace of the world. In the midst of suffering and despair, fill me with all joy. In the midst of confusion and conflict, fill me with all peace. Through your Holy breath, overflow me with hope.