As I have been reading Time and Newsweek and The New York Times this past week, I have noticed a trend as writers seek to describe the decade that is quickly winding down. Their words are searing-- struggle, despair, corruption, meltdown, greed, economic narcissism, irresponsibility, terrorism--as they exegete "the decade from hell," as the cover of the December 7 Time names it. They surmise that the next decade will be better because it could not possibly be worse! This seems much more like fatalism than hope, in my judgment.
The lectionary texts for the first Sunday of Advent do not speak of the child coming in great humility, using words wrapped in the holy glow of angelic music. Rather, these texts speak of the coming of God in great power at the last day to fulfill all the covenant promises. Often preachers skip over them, hurrying to Bethlehem's more manageable vista. We would rather speak of a new beginning than the summing up of the age with all the spectres of judgment. Yet, these texts of second Advent are brimming with hope, also.
Two images, the “righteous branch” of Jeremiah 33:15 and the blossoming fig tree of Luke 21:29-30, illustrate God’s faithfulness in contexts that might be deemed hopeless. It seems that the righteousness of God can only be clearly seen when human straits are thoroughly desperate. When we no longer rely solely on our cleverness, our optimism, our industry, then there is room for hope to sprout. Hope is not something we generate on our own; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the means by which we combat cynicism and fatalism in a world seduced by materialism; too many of us pay more attention to the market and how our retirements are doing than to our impoverished neighbors.
St. Augustine offers a perceptive insight: Hope has two beautiful daughters
--anger to see things the way they are
--courage to change them to the way they should be.
During this Advent, I am asking God to sprout hope in my life that I might balance anger and courage for constructive purposes. While the exigencies of this past decade have been challenging, we as people of faith trust more in God than in an unstable economy, military might, or diplomatic initiatives. Let us live in hope. Molly T. Marshall