To believe, or even to want to believe, the promises of this week’s Scriptures is a radical act of hope and defiant faithfulness in the face of devastating reality and superficial saccharine seasonal wishes. (Advent Three. Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28; and John 1:6-8, 19-28.)
You may wish to consider what I wrote three years ago for Advent Three.
To believe in good news for the oppressed; to believe in comfort for those who mourn; to believe in the repair of ruined cities; to believe that the earth will again bring forth its shoots and that what has been sown will spring up; is a radical act of hope and defiant faithfulness despite what our news feed overwhelms us with daily. Radical hope, I have come to believe, is to on the one hand to deeply acknowledge the reality of our present world – the hunger and the harm, the devastation and the despair – and to also hold in our hearts and imaginations the world that the prophet Isaiah speaks of. It is not one or the other but both truths. And maybe even more importantly is to see the shoots of the promised world in this one even now.
When we have lamented the way it is, when we have raised our clenched fists heavenward and sighed or screamed “Why” then our radically defiant hope stirs us to rise from our knees at the altar rail and make our way to the ruins of our time and fall to our knees to search the rubble for life, to comfort those who mourn, and to do what can be done for the wounded. This is our call at every level – physically for some, financially for those of us who can, spiritually for all who pray, and imaginally for all who have the courage to do so. True hope and faith require that we not look away but hold the image of what is and the vision of what is meant to be and with the prophet’s gaze see the emergence of the kingdom even now.
Our readings this week remind us that preparing for Christmas is not simply preparing for our private reflections on Jesus come to earth for me, or our personal memories of Christmases past when life was easier or sweeter (although I too remember with nostalgia when my children were small and so easily excited). Advent, our preparing for the coming of God, is holding a sacred space for hope and change even in the broken and jaundiced parts of our personal and shared life; Advent is being awake to all that is and giving ourselves over to the shaking apart of the known world so the promised might come; and Advent is about courage, hope and desire for peace and restoration even when we are wearied and worried.
Our wonderful readings this week also remind us that we are preparing not simply for survival, for getting by, but we are making way for justice and joy. Not the artificial joy of decorated shop windows and homes (even though these can be delightful) but for the mercy of God in every part of life and of the world. We are called to prepare for justice even as we see new atrocities being added to the horrifying ledger of human activity as children and health workers are bombed; as people and creatures starve or drown in the face of our struggling planet; and as too many leaders political and religious avoid eye contact with the real challenges of our time. We are called to prepare for the reigning down of God’s justice for all even at this time when it seems to recede from us for it is now that it is most desperately needed. We the faithful must hold the hope now when it is most needed and others are weary.
And most radical of all we are called to practice joy even now in the midst of all that is happening and not happening. We are not to wait until a good time or a convenient time to know joy but crazy with hope and love we are called to experience joy now in whatever measure we can and to assert the right of all humanity and creatures to know joy.
Joy is not simply the reward of a happy life or some would never get to experience it. Joy is a response of wonder, gratitude, pleasure and delight in the moment. It is a response of faith to allow joy even in the presence of loss and fear and weariness. We can and must choose to practice joy so that the world remembers it is possible. Joy in the angle of sunlight at certain times of the day. Joy in being remembered and remembering. Joy in hearing of a neighbour’s good news. Joy in an overheard refrain. Joy in a shared meal. Joy that the image of the universal child in a manger still speaks of hope, peace, and love as possible.
So let us be radical claimers of hope, of peace, and of joy so that we are ready for the season of love. Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come awaken us to the joy that is now.
You may wish to read what I wrote on the theme of Joy in previous years.