As the days have grown darker, and colder, I’ve been thinking about Advent, and hope. Traditionally, Hope is the theme of the first Sunday of the season, the first Sunday of the Church year too. Autumn seems to have been long, and restorative, and I’m not quite ready for winter. But here we are, nonetheless. And winter has its consolations.
I think there is wisdom in the old practices of having Advent as a time of quiet, reflective, waiting – a little like Lent before Easter. It’s so at odds with the flashing lights and loud shops and busyness, that understanding, but we can perhaps catch moments where those wintering practices are possible, and might help us….. pools of quiet light where we can breathe and think.
I’m also intrigued by the more medieval practice of putting yourself in the place of the people of Israel as they waited, not quite knowing what they were waiting for. Of not naming Jesus and Christmas, but instead allowing what we long for to be recognised and owned and prayed and worked for. In our context we join so many people throughout history who have felt the future to be shifting and uncertain, and who have longed for a kinder, gentler and more beautiful world. Taking some time to know and feel what we lack, what kind of world and lives we desire, might help us too face a troubling future with some courage and determination.
So Hope is a good place to begin.
Ah, hope. I’ve been turning over in my mind what it means to nurture hope in a world which seems increasingly unstable in climate and economics and culture. I’ve settled, for now, on making a distiction between hope and optimism. So, for me, I’m thinking of optimism as an opinion that things will work out. Something tied to outcomes. I see hope as a stance, an attitude of the heart and spirit, that it’s always worth looking for what brings life, for what is good. It does not require us to be naive about the dangers and difficulties around and within us. We are called to be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves – Matthew’s gospel.
Nonetheless, it’s worth working as if the world-as-it-could/should-be is here, emerging amongst us, small as the signs and growth may be. Not a glib avoidance strategy that it’s all fine, really, it’s all going to be fine…. but as a deliberate and courageous stance, holding on to a vision of how things could be. With the cost of living crisis bringing fear and hardship, and with the climate noticiably more unstable, we need courageous hope that’s prepared to work to refashion things around us in defiance of what we see. There is real power in such acts.
The picture of the bulbs and the bookmark at the top of this post relates to an action I took with some friends in our local high street to coincide with last year’s COP. We handed out bulbs and bookmarks, and encouraged people to think about ways they could plant hope. You can read more about that here.
Little Free Pantry at St Andrew’s Church, Melton
As Advent begins, we re-read the words of the prophets together. They often spoke into desperate, unpromising circumstances with a mixture of a vision to hold in our hearts, and actions for our hands to do. Those actions can be prophetic themselves, speaking out and making plain God’s dream for the world – a beautiful, hopeful vision strong enough to withstand hard times – brave enough to choose to be born to a poor family, who sheltered in a stable, and had to run from a murderous tyrant. This is how hope was offered to the world, in the infant Jesus.
During this Advent series, I’ll share with you some extracts from my books. Here’s something from The Bible Retold , as the retelling of the Hebrew scriptures comes to an end, and we look forward..
As the walls were rebuild, so were the people. For God was building them into a new kind of kingdom. Isaiah the prophet wrote: “This is how to truly serve me: unbind people who are trapped by injustice, and lift up those who are ground down. Share your food with the hungry, and clothe the cold – that is how to live in the light!”
The people listened to his words of bright hope. “There is much darkness in the world, but your light is coming! All nations will be drawn to you, and they, too, will shine!”
“A child is born to us,
a son is given.
Authority will rest
on his shoulders,
and his names will be
Prince of Peace.
His kingdom, his peace,
will roll across the lands,
and he will reign on the
throne of David for ever.”
We give thanks for the work that is being done right now, in our communities, to clothe, and feed, and seek justice. May we have the courageous vision to join with that work of light.
From Prayers and Verses
Scatter the darkness from before our paths.
(Adapted from the Alternative Service Book)
The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true light.
The days are dark,
Dear God, give us your true life.
The days are dark.From Prayers and Verses
Dear God, give us your true love.
The Advent Candle Ring is from the good people at The Chapel in the Fields
It gives me great pleasure to know that the oak at the base was once a lectern, and the lighter wood on top a dining table. The words written around it are from the ancient chants, the “O” Antiphons. These chants came into being when people did not call for Jesus to come at Christmas, but instead used names from the Prophets – like Emmanuel, God with us – to name their hopes. The first few centuries of the Christian Era saw these great prayers, the “O” Antiphons, sung during Advent, calling on Christ to come now, and to come again.
You can listen to the old chant, and read Malcolm Guite’s sonnet, and much more, here.
This coming week, let’s hold on to hope, look for signs of the life of God breaking through, and see where we can be part of that move towards a more beautiful, loving, hopeful world.
From the top photo…..
I made my bookmark with a stamp by the lovely Noolibird.
The plastic free bulbs are from Farmer Gracy
And the table is from Hannah Dowding Furniture