Today the window above my desk is filled with beautiful snowflakes drifting down with a cedar tree in the background. The visuals match the traditional images on so many Christmas cards.
Yes, Advent is here and Christians begin the journey to the manger—all sounds familiar to those who have been raised in the church and celebrate the holiday focusing on the story shared in the gospels and prophesied for thousands of years.
But what about Advent season for those who are unfamiliar with the Christian tradition of Advent and Christmas? Are they excited about a season or just about what the secular world has decided is a holiday tradition? Are their hearts filled with hope?
Admittedly this is a simple line of thought from one who has lived a lifetime wrapped in the Christian tradition; yet, I am wondering why I have discovered how much more exciting Christmas is for me this year versus all the other years. I think it may be from discovering the true secret to Christmas: hope, love, joy, and peace.
This is the first Advent in over a decade that I have not focused on creating a series of worship services that lead a congregation to Christmas day. I thought I would really miss the process and the excitement that the work has entailed over the past 10 years.
But as I sit here watching the snowflakes swirling ever so gently around the house, I must admit that I am not missing the work that Advent has meant for these past years. Instead, I am experiencing Advent a bit differently. I am sensing hope.
Let’s consider what hope really is:
NOUN mass noun
1 A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.
- 1.1count noun A person or thing that may help or save someone.
- 1.2 Grounds for believing that something good may happen.
2 archaic A feeling of trust.
1 Want something to happen or be the case.
- 1.1with infinitive Intend if possible to do something.
This definition comes from the Oxford dictionary on-line that is my go to dictionary because it also offers the origin of the word, too:
Late Old English hopa (noun), hopian (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hoop (noun), hopen (verb), and German hoffen (verb).
Looking closely at the various entries for hope, I see the value of opening Advent with the emphasis on hope. For four weeks, we create an atmosphere of expecting something huge to happen.
For Christians, that big thing is the birth of Jesus Christ. At least that is the design of the traditional Christian season. Sadly, the secular world has invaded the spiritual world and the hope appears to be more for a day of gift giving.
If one can lessen the emphasis on gift giving as the “big thing” of Christmas, the desire or hope shifts from fancy packages under a Christmas tree to the givingof love from one person to another.
I was saddened to notice the second definition of hopeis listed as archaic: a feeling of trust. Advent should still focus on that definition.
For thousands of years, the Israelites had waited, trusted, that God would provide a messiah to “fix” the mess they were in. They had hope.
Do we, in the 21stcentury still have hope?
Advent is a time to re-evaluate that idea. At times we all experience feeling lost, depressed, alone, guilty, stranded, and the list continues. At those times, we lose hope. Turn hope into the verb, not the noun.
The verb places each one of us in an active state: we want something to happen or something to be. The Israelites continued to hope. As bad as things got, they trusted God to provide an answer to their demise.
Do we, in the 21stcentury hope—actively hope?
Maybe I am not in a pulpit right now, but I am discovering hope again in a new light. I am making subtle changes in how I celebrate the entire season and finding hopealive in surprising ways.
For instance, I was reading the lectionary reading for this week and discovered an emphasis on trust. Psalms 25 opens
O Lord, I give my life to you.
I trust in you, my God! . . .
No one who trusts in you will ever be disgraced,
But disgrace comes to those who try to deceive others.
Living in a society filled with all kinds of distressing concerns—personal, health, financial, governmental, global—we need to trust in God. We need hope that God is with us, that he hears us, that he wants what is best for us.
The traditions that have developed around our secular celebrations during Advent and on Christmas Day may be well-intentioned, but is in God?
Evaluating the secular traditions through the filter of my Christian faith forces me to redefine the traditions. My hopeis that the “reason for the season” is more important in my life than the hope that I find packages under the tree just for me.
This Advent, I want to emphasize how trusting in God provides me a hope that extends beyond the worldly scope of my life.
My hope is the traditions that demonstrate love for one another creates a joy that expands beyond a package wrapped under a tree.
Read the scriptures for Advent’s first week and see if your heart opens, too, finding how those who trust in God have hope that leads to joy:
Lectionary readings for the week of December 2:
- Jeremiah 33:14-16
- Psalm 25:1-10
- I Thessalonians 3:9-13
- Luke 21:25-36
Give me the strength
to trust in the ancient words of scripture.
Give me the determination
to keep Advent a time of expectation.
Open my heart to be filled with hope.
Guide me in celebrating the birth of your son
with traditions to reflect your love.
Guide me in sharing the story of Jesus’ birth
with words and actions to share your love.
Open my heart to be filled with trust.
Thank you for the words of the ancient faithful
that help us open our hearts to trust.
Thank you for the work of the faithful
who open our hearts in hope of Jesus’ birth.
In the name of you, the Father,
In the name of your son, Jesus Christ,
In the name of the Holy Spirit, amen.
P.S. Friends, the snow is still falling outside my window. What a joy it is as I experience the excitement of the season! I hope your days are full of the joy we feel as Christmas Day nears.