Hope: the practice of defiant faith

A Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent   (Hobart North UCA)

So…               What IS hope?

We light a candle for it…

But what is it?           And why is it part of our preparing for Christmas?

We could look up definitions.  But, to be honest, I’d rather we think about it from our own point of view for just a little while…  And maybe our own experience.

What does that word, that idea, mean?

I wonder if you think about hope, or experience it, in the way I’ve entitled this reflection:

“ the practice of defiant faith

(for those checking if I’ve spelled ‘practice’ right, it’s a noun in this sentence.  Hope is a Christian practice, something we do.)

My inspiration here is the prophet Jeremiah

Thus says the LORD” it says in Jer 33  “the days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the people…”   way back when.

That’s some dream!    From the man in prison, as his home and community and temple are ransacked by yet another foreign power… his people taken captive into Babylon!

Some dream indeed!  Some hope!  Defiant hope, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary!

But the hope expressed here is not simply blind optimism, that somehow things will get better, the Lord only knows how…   It is that, but it’s also more than that.

It is Jeremiah LIVING in defiant hope:

  • Recognising the reality around him, but refusing to be overwhelmed by it.
  • Actively looking for signs of hope, and being ready to name what he sees.
  • Living with the conviction that life means something, even in its struggles.

Now I differ from Jeremiah on one thing:  I don’t believe, as he does, that GOD creates the struggles to teach people a lesson, or to make them better people, or to get their attention.  That’s not my understanding or my experience, or my way of naming GOD in the world.

But I can only be inspired by his faithfulness, and the tenacious hope that inspired him!

Part of my response to that inspiration is to name my own hope:

  • That the sacred spirit in whom I “live and move and have my being” (Paul, in Acts 17), is not ‘out there’ watching from a distance and intervening when it suits;
  • That the holy presence I call “GOD” is fundamentally part of all life, in brokenness and wholeness, in love and fear, in despair and hope, in fragility in strength:

calling me to live as if the realm of GOD is among us.

In one sense, that’s the easy bit.

It gets trickier if & when we ask questions like these:

·           “How do we live in defiant hope in 21st Century Australia?”

  • “Why do we need to?”

I don’t know what your answer to these questions might be.

I invite you to take a few moments with them now, and perhaps to take them home with you…

I’m not completely sure what my answers might be, although I suspect that phrases like “asylum seekers”, “politics of fear and negativity” and “culture of celebrity” might crop up a bit!

And I wonder what it means to put these alongside those great words from John’s Gospel: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never overcome it”

What is hope?  How does it influence or change how we live?

Today we lit a candle… just one, the candle of hope.

Its flame is small, but going – to be joined as advent continues by the flames of peace, joy and love, and then by the one in their midst.

May the flames grow stronger in our lives this Advent, fanned by the breath of GOD

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