I write this article with a vague feeling of trepidation. We are once again celebrating Advent, a season which reminds us of God’s universal love and boundless grace, demonstrated by the birth of a child long ago. The season is filled with bright lights, colorful decorations, traditional music and the hopeful reminders of peace on earth, goodwill towards all mankind.
I would like to compose an article which reflects this joyous and celebratory spirit. Yet reflecting on past holiday seasons and the events of this last year, I worry that once again there may be another Sandy Hook or Paris attack. The events of 2017 – Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Harvey, Charlottesville, North Korea and the political struggles in Washington, cast a shadow over our land and I wonder if the season of joy will be marred by the acts of angry men or a terrible natural disaster.
I sincerely hope no horrific event happens and pray that God will grant us a reprieve from these human tragedy. Whether such an incident occurs or not, we must see beyond our limited vision and allow God’s infinite spirit to overcome our fears.
I am a huge fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s master work, “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, having read the books numerous times and seen the movies many times more. In the second movie, “The Two Towers”, the people have taken refuge in a citadel called Helms Deep. They foolishly believe they can withstand the onslaught of the Orcs (goblin) army gathered outside their walls. Every male who can yield a weapon, including young boys, is pressed into service. There is little chance they can win, so fear and doubt begin to tear at their courage. Their leader is Aragorn, a warrior king without a crown who must lead his makeshift army of old men and boys against the might of an Orc army.
In one scene a young boy, eleven or twelve, holds an ancient sword too big for him to use. Seeing the apprehension and uncertainty in the boy’s face, Aragorn takes the sword and gives it a few practice swings. The weapon is old, rusted and pitted, useless for battle. He tries to hide his disgust at the weapon then hands it back to youth saying, “This is a good sword.” Then he places his hands on the boy’s shoulders and says simply, “There is always hope.”
That simple statement is one of the most powerful moments in all three movies. It reminds me that in a world filled with foreboding and embodied by darkness, there is always hope which God gives us through the birth of the Christ Child. Perhaps more than faith or grace, hope is the foundation upon which God builds His Kingdom. If there is no hope, then our faith has no place to take root and love cannot heal nor grace redeem us. Without hope there can be no victory against the “gates of Hades”.
It is believed that Jesus was not born in December but in the spring when there is a renewal of life and we become hopeful of the warmers days ahead. Yet we celebrate our Savior’s birth during the darkness of winter when life has retreated into dormancy. Perhaps it is at this time when our hearts and minds dwell on the corruption and troubles of the world, when we are drawn into a darker place at the beginning of winter, when warm days and growing plants and new born creatures are beyond our daily experience; perhaps it is now that we need to be reminded that “there is always hope”.
During the weeks leading to Christmas, we light candles which prepare us to receive God’s gift of our Redeemer. It is not happenstance that the first candle is the light of Hope. If we do not allow hope to fill our hearts in the darkness of winter, then peace, joy and love cannot emerge in the spring when salvation can bear fruit. Without the light of hope we cannot see in the darkness and are led astray. The Grace of God is hidden from us and salvation, though freely offered, is forsaken.
By itself, the candle of Hope is dim and weak. Its light cannot overcome the darkness that surrounds it. Yet it must be lit so we may find a place to begin our journey of faith. Without hope we are blind, lost in the darkness of a sinful world. And if we find hope we can light the candles of peace, joy and love. Then the darkness retreats and gives way to the light of God’s Grace.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds. (Titus 2:11-14NRSV)
Despite the events of the world I look forward to this Advent season. My heart is filled with the joy and hopefulness of Advent. And I pray that all my church family will experience a joyful Christmas season as well.
“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you. (Isaiah 60:1-2 NRSV)
We should not allow worldly events to overshadow this light of hope. Indeed, the light though feeble and weak, cannot be overpowered by any earthly authority. For in Christ Jesus, God has made a promise that cannot be broken. In the birth of a child God established His kingdom and proclaimed its King. We need to bow before this child who would redeem us and allow his words to lead us through the darkness and toward the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom on earth. If we seek the Child and follow the man, then “There is always hope.”
Wishing all of you a joyous and blessed Advent
Pastor Dan and Debbie