“Hope is a muscle,” an online yoga teacher said as I was hoping hard that I wouldn’t fall. Hope is a muscle. Advent feels like the season when we lean hard into using that muscle. Hope, expectation, waiting. Christmas can swallow up the season of Advent. Our culture moves past any waiting and into celebration and cheer...which I don’t begrudge. Bring on the Christmas lights! But there is also a deep yearning and longing that Advent brings forward in our lives, a holiness in stretching the muscle of hope, which I also welcome.
What also tends to get swallowed up is that the Advent season is not about waiting for Christmas, or for the baby Jesus. Or, it’s not all about that. It’s also about waiting for the coming of Christ again. Waiting and hoping for the fulfillment of all that God has promised! For the kingdom of God -- a reign of justice, peace and joy -- to fully be known and realized. Really and truly, stretching that muscle of hope.
I think of the centuries and centuries of Christ-followers stretching that muscle. Singing and proclaiming and longing for new life. I think of those who experienced famine, disease, war and oppression, and over and over stretched that muscle of hope, even as they grieved, grew weary and touched the edges of despair. Hope has spurred movements that have lived far into future generations. With our hope firmly rooted in Christ, we live out God’s kingdom - justice, peace, joy - now! We witness to the power of hope in Christ through our very living. We begin to experience what we hope for.
However, hope is not a comfortable muscle to use. It does not allow us to simply be optimistic, to avoid uncomfortable truths or escape from suffering. Like Emmanuel, hope fully enters into the present reality whatever that reality may be. Hope is for living in the present, not in the future...and there is lots of discomfort in the present. Hope teaches us about our longing and yearning.
“Soon and very soon, we are going to see the king,” the song goes. Soon and very soon. An expectation that has spurred action grounded in hope. I wonder what this season will reveal to us during this particular time of the pandemic. How are we being invited to stretch the muscle? What does it mean for us to live in the in-between --- not at the beginning of the pandemic and not at its end? Or, transformed by the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, and yet, also singing, praying, proclaiming “soon and very soon” he will come again? How does this hope change our living for today?
I hope you will join us as we journey through Advent. Worship with us on Sunday mornings. Join us for Holden Evening Prayer on Wednesday nights. Follow the prayer calendar in your Advent kit. Lean into the season and stretch the muscle. May the God of hope bless you.