This Advent, Nan Thomas will share four Sunday reflections with us on these themes: hope, prepare, watch, and rejoice. Nan is deeply thoughtful about spiritual formation, a topic she pursues as an InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries staff member and as Associate Director of Faculty Development at Union University. In addition, Nan was part of the founding team that imagined the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) and made it a reality. We’re grateful for her ongoing advice and encouragement, and for this Advent series.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. —Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)
As the church year commences and the Advent season begins again, we are called to hope, prepare, watch, and rejoice. These shorter, gray sky days often point to the reality that our whole being is aching for something more, something deeper. Especially needed at this time is quiet stillness that enables us to see the light that shines in the darkness: how Jesus is the light that brings us hope. At times the glitter of Christmas inspires us to create the ideal family Christmas experience, and often this masks our need for hope in the goodness of God. In the weeks before Christmas I hear people say, “I hope I get everything done.” “I hope they like it.” “I hope it snows.” While these are real desires, they are more likely wishes. Hope is more than wishful thinking. Some describe it as “confident expectation.” Confidence because God is good and thereby goodness is possible, in people and in circumstances.
Advent beckons each of us to consider what we are hoping in and what are we hoping for. Advent calls us to hope in God and his promises, trusting that he has our best interest at heart. It seems to me that hope is most likely a way of being rather than a temporal response to circumstances, people or desires. Hope is more than relying on our limited capacity to accomplish things or our optimistic temperament that sees the glass half full. It is a response to the reality that God is good and he has chosen to come to us and make all things new. Hope is not only bigger than our wishes and our life circumstances, it informs our response to all things. In the first stanza of the following poem, Emily Dickinson offers a fabulous picture of hope: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers -“. [Editor’s note: Due to complex copyright situations, we have linked to this poem rather than reprinted it].
Advent comes the four weeks prior to our Christmas rush, and thereby seems to be the most inopportune time to slow down and take time apart for reflection. It is, though, just what we need to find our source of hope in all the busyness. Every year I begin thinking about Advent in early November. For five years I have opened my home to six friends for an Advent Morning Apart. They arrive at 8:30 am, we catch up, pray together, I hand out a retreat guide and we disperse for three hours of solitude and silence. We come back together for soup and bread and conclude by 1 pm. I love writing the guide, opening my home, making bread and soup, and praying with my friends. But mostly, I love focusing on Jesus. That may sound very spiritual, but it is true. Encountering the contemplative tradition twenty-six years ago, I was delighted to learn that being with Christ, not just doing the works of Christ, is an essential part of discipleship. Each day, many times a day, as often as we desire, we can intentionally draw near to Christ, and sit at his feet just like Mary in Luke 10. And the good news is that his presence and his love will not be taken from us, either.
Advent calls. Oh come all ye faithful, come and behold him, come and adore him.
Questions for Reflection
What are you hoping for this Advent season? How is your hope in God and his promises informing your responses to people and circumstances?
Holy God, in whom our hope is centered, hear the prayers of your people:
Thank you for the rhythm of Advent every year, the season in which we confirm our hope in Christ, the one who came and lived among us for a while and has made all things new.
We confess to you the ways in which we have placed our hope in other things, other people, or our dreams, skills, and ambitions.
Teach us to worry less over insignificant things and to hope more in you and your promises;
Increase our capacity to hope in your provision for all things and to not place unrealistic expectations and financial burdens upon ourselves;
Oh Christ, instill within us your peace that we might live hopefully in the present and experience the joy of an abundant life that you offer to us. Amen.
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