November 30, 2003
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
After awhile, you get tired of hoping. After months and years of waiting, you begin to think, it is foolish to hold on. After trying and attempting so often to change things, you can begin to wonder whether it is time to give up. How do we continue to hope when so few things change? Does it even make sense to keep waiting when so few signs of hope can be seen?
How long have we been waiting for healing within our families? How often have we tried to bring estranged relatives together to resolve past hurts? Does it make sense to keep waiting, to keep hoping for reconciliation? How long have we been waiting for someone to love us, for someone to understand and enjoy us, for someone to build a life and a family together with us? How many times did we think, this was it, only to be disappointed? Does it make sense to keep hoping that the right person will come into our life? How long have we been waiting for our problems to be solved, for our sickness to be healed, for our grief to end? Does it make sense to keep hoping even when our hopes are so often frustrated?
The Gospel today, says that it does. The Gospel makes clear that the foundation of our hope is not what has happened to us in the past, but what God intends to do for us in the future. Today’s gospel shows great turmoil on the earth and distress among the nations, but its message is that underneath that turmoil, God is working to change things. God is working to establish the Kingdom. It is God’s action which is the foundation of our hope. That is why Jesus says that we should stand up and raise our heads because our redemption is at hand. We can always stand in hope because we believe that God is always working to change things and to bring about salvation.
Advent is a season of hope. A season, in which we try to remember what the foundation of our hope. A time in which we rally ourselves to keep hoping.
Yet not every hope is real. There are some hopes that are foolish. This is why Advent encourages a realistic and wise hope that is based upon the truth. There are two characteristics to this wise hope: discernment and action.
Advent hope is a hope of discernment, a hope that realizes that it is not good to hope in things that can endanger us. If we find ourselves in the midst of abuse or manipulation, it is not good for us to just hope that things will change. We must remove ourselves from that danger. If someone has made it clear to us that they will not love us, that they do not want to relate to us, it is not wise to hope that they will change. We must face the truth that the relationship is ended and move on with life. Advent hope is also a hope of action. Although it always depends on God’s timing and the emergence of new opportunities, when the door opens, we must be ready to act. When God provides us with an opportunity, we must seize that moment. When we sense things moving and changing, we must be ready to step forward and dedicate our energy and our talent to promote love and reconciliation.
Without discernment and action, hope can be an illusion, an escape from reality. But when we use our heads and stand ready to act, hope can be a great force that can change us and our world.
There is a painting entitled, “Checkmate” and it shows a scene of a young man playing chess with the devil. The artist has seized upon the moment when the devil has made a decisive move. He has checkmated the young man’s king. You can see the satisfaction on the devil’s face as well the fear and the surprise on the face of the young man. The artist shows where the position of the chess pieces are on the board and many who understand the game of chess have examined that painting and agreed that the game was over, that the move of the devil was decisive, that he had won. Paul Murphy, who was a renowned world chess player, was once asked to look at this picture. He gazed at it for a long time and suddenly saw something that no one had seen before. He realized that there was yet a strategy that the young man could undertake. In his excitement over this discovery, Murphy cried out to the young man in the picture, “Don’t give up. You still have a move! You still have a move!”
That is the message of Advent: Don’t give up. The game is not over. Keep watching and waiting. You will find a way out. Despite all the experiences of the past, despite all the lost opportunities, God is still acting. New opportunities are still emerging. The devil has not won. You still have a move. There still is hope.