This is a difficult time. I keep thinking of Shakespeare’s phrase, “Now is the winter of our discontent…” I am aware that Richard III does not stop his opening monologue at this point. In fact, he holds up hope as he lifts his tribute to “this sun [son] of York” who has “made glorious summer.” We’ll come back to this glorious sun/son. In spite of his good mood, Richard must have known a winter of real discontent prior to his proclamation of the coming of a glorious summer.
Truly it is hard to hold hope in this winter of discontent, to see any possibility that that glorious sun/son for which we long will ever be seen cresting the horizon of this world gone mad. The horrors of gun violence, mass shootings (352 in this country in the last 334 days), wars and rumors of war, folks who claim to be Christian building walls and issuing edicts to keep the stranger out, masses huddled in refugee camps, political rhetoric that barely rises to the level of trash talk, people arguing over the status of the planet as the earth itself cries out in agony. It is hard to hold hope in such a context, let alone proclaim it. And yet that is exactly what Advent challenges us to do – hold hope when it seems impossible.
I’ve mentioned before my friend, Harold. He’s the younger son of a seminary classmate of my father (back in Kansas in the mid 1930’s). Our fathers were close friends and I’ve known Harold most of my life. Among other things, Harold is a teacher of English, a fine organist and thoughtful agnostic. In his blog postings, he wrestles with his own deep spirituality and a love-hate relationship with organized religion. My sermon from last Sunday, “Hope Bubbles Up,” elicited a response from Harold. I was initially reluctant to read it because I imagined he might call me out for promoting cheap hope.
You see I know that Harold is very passionate about issues of social justice, especially the plight of the people of Palestine. I know this because I receive a daily blog post from Harold reminding me of the injustice and oppression perpetrated on Palestinians by Israel and its allies, chiefly the USA. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of hope for Palestine and Palestinians right now. I know this because Harold just spent 10 days in that part of world and he has told me all about it in his blog postings.
So I wasn’t disappointed when the last line of Harold’s email read, “I hope all of you hopeful people keep preaching even though, having spent 10 days in Palestine two weeks ago, I hardly see much in the world that is hopeful. At least we don’t (YET!) have 19-year-olds patrolling the streets with M-16s.” I get it. It’s a bleak winter, filled with our discontent. Madmen do roam our streets with assault weapons.
Pope Francis chides us for the frivolous festivities of the season that ignore the deep need of a hurting world, a world Christ comes to redeem, to reconcile with its Creator. I read again Thomas Merton’s powerful poem of Advent that begins:
Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.
This chaotic world flush with fear and anxiety, full of pain and destruction, this demented in, this bleak winter of discontent is precisely the setting into which Christ enters – uninvited yet determined to bring…hope? peace? joy? love? Merton continues:
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
His place is with the others for whom
there is no room.
His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power,
because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited
who are denied status of persons,
who are tortured, bombed and exterminated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.”
Oddly, these word give me hope. When questioning Harold’s tag under his signature is, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…” (Matthew 25:25-36), I see a flicker of light. There are constant small reminders and occasional larger ones that a better day is possible, that the summer sun might break forth, that the arc of the moral universe, though long, bends inevitably toward justice, that the Love that made us is determined to reclaim us. If we didn’t hold some flicker of hope, how could we continue at all?
An Advent devotional I read this week, puts it this way, “… often hope comes in small doses and flickering images. Signs that are fleeting and brief, and usually seem insignificant. Advent is a season in which we can cultivate a posture of waiting and watching with hope. It is hope that anchors us – it nourishes us, it sustains us, it keeps our eyes up” (d365.org).
One thing that came to me almost immediately in reading Harold’s post is that he helps me hold hope. His insistent reminders of Palestinian pain keep that awful reality before me, along with his other concerns for injustice in this world. He won’t let me forget and for that I am grateful. There are other of you whom I could cite for your faithful witness as well. The more I think about you, the clearer I am that this reflection could run on for a long, long time. Now, in this winter of my own discontent and distress, I give thanks for every one of you who helps me hold hope, even when it’s by my finger-tips. “The Christ in thee meets the Christ in me” and a glimmer of light appears on the horizon.
“O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s deep shadows put to flight.” Amen.