Each week I write a reflection for my parish bulletin on the Sunday Scriptures and Catholic social teaching. On the good weeks, it provides a disciplined way for me to reflect on the readings before we get to Mass. On the bad weeks, I think grouchy, uncharitable thoughts about How I Don’t Have For This With Work And Child And Everything Else. But I still try to persevere, for myself if nothing else. I need to encounter God in Scripture more than I often do.
This week was a Good Week. True, I had no time to write it (again). And with F out of town (again) and a snow storm swirling round the house (again), I had a driveway to shovel as well. But I forced myself to read the Scripture for Sunday before I went out and tackled the shoveling.
I adore the first reading from Isaiah (the Peaceable Kingdom!), and the Gospel about wild and wooly John the Baptist preaching repentance is a “gimme” for reflecting on social justice. But instead it was this one line from Paul’s letter to the Romans that gave me pause (enough to chew on while I shoveled, anyway):
Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
Hope. In Advent, in all time. In Paul’s day, in our own. Hope can become so cliched as to wither into meaninglessness. Until we enflesh it with the power of Spirit and the truth of Scripture, which remind us that hope is not easy but is what/how/who we are called to be each day as Christians.
In my research on vocation, I recently came across a wonderful article by Walter Brueggeman called “Covenanting as Human Vocation.” In his exploration of the relationship between God and Israel, Brueggeman brings his characteristic wisdom and poetic writing to bear on the subject of hope. At one point, his words stopped me in my tracks:
“In response to the One who makes all things new, a faithful human action is hope, to live in sure and certain confidence of promises, to function each day trusting that God’s promises and purposes will not fail. Hope is not something one does at the margins of life when our resources fail, but it is definitional for persons in covenant with this God.”
When I am at my worst – as Brueggeman says, “at the margins of life” – is when I am consumed with thoughts of hope. I hunger after it; I find it nowhere and yet I long for it everywhere.
As I often do during this season of Advent, I think back to our journey through infertility, when hope wore thin and my prayers were pleading, plodding petitions. Hope seemed so far-off, certainly not a daily companion or a faithful friend.
But Brueggeman challenges me – and all of us – to consider hope as the central mark by which we define our relationship with God. We are called to trust that God’s promises will not fail. We are covenanted to believe that goodness, love, and forgiveness will triumph. We are made to hope, and when we do otherwise, we live counter to the very nature by which God created us.
To hope is to be faithful. It is not naive or immature; it is not fool-hearty or simplistic. Hope is the real stuff of relationship with God and with each other. Scripture was passed down through the centuries, spoken from generation to generation, written down for future believers – so that “we might have hope.” What a powerful witness.
Advent is a season of hope. A promised savior for an enslaved people. An in-breaking of the divine into the very essence of humanity. The fulfillment of the prophets’ visions.
We await the birth of Jesus with the same faithful anticipation, the same hopeful trust in God’s good promises as centuries of followers before us. Hope is not marginal for Christians, but definitional. It makes us who we are – resurrection people (even at the nativity). Advent invites us to remember who we are.