Advent 1 2014 Hope in the midst of hopelessness

After a generation in exile, the Israelites returned home to Jerusalem
Life had been painful, hurtful, hope-less
There was no sense of positivity there.

How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

And when they got back, they had thought all would be great
that it would be as returning to a land flowing in milk and honey.
It was meant to be glorious.
But it wasn’t.   it wasn’t the clear, bright, shining hope they longed for.

And when it wasn’t, they cried out: for something clear. Bright.   Obvious.

“Tear open the heavens”
Turn the emptiness into something great.
Turn the black into white.

It’s a pretty common thought.
Things aren’t good – in fact things might seem pretty horrible –
so our longing is for everything to change, for the world to made totally different

But it didn’t work like that for the people of Jerusalem post exile
And it tends not to work like that much, from my experience

Hope is not found in the sudden shift from things being totally hope-less
to being white being totally hope-filled
The contrast is not as stark as black and white

Hope is found in the introduction of glimpses of grey
which might on a good day look like a sliver of silver

The novelist Anne Lamott talks about hope as
the thing that begins in the dark,
the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing,
the dawn will come.

Part of the movie “Long Walk to Freedom”
tells the story of Nelson Mandela’s early days on Robben Island.

As part of the demeaning way of treating prisoners, and dividing races,
the guards distribute the prison clothing,
which included long trousers for “Indians”
and shorts for black Africans, or “boys”.

Mandela is shown as speaking to other prisoners
letting them know that they would be making demands,
to get the guards to respect them.

“It will take time,” he says, “But we have time – so we will start small.
We will start with long trousers.”

Later in the movie even in the midst of the continued work gang conditions,
we see the scene where all prisoners are given long trousers.

Hope starts small.

The reality is that there are good reasons and appropriate times
to feel a sense of hopelessness.
But Advent is a call back that we are not left in the hopelessness we might feel
and we are not to leave others there either.

We will start to make demands – says Mandela.
They will start small.   The first will be – long trousers.
And bit by bit.   Over more than 20 years, small signs of hope.
Often mixed in amongst the bleakest and most hope-less of times
But still, signs of hope nonetheless

A few weeks ago, here in Canberra as part of an ongoing movement
for hope and justice, a group of people
from all sorts of different church backgrounds
gathered and prayed at Senator Seselja’s electoral office:

There are fewer children in detention now than when the movement started

And in the midst of the evidenced trauma and distress
of children being locked up in detention
and in the midst of the potential passage of some frightening legislation
there are small glimpses of grey and slivers of silver

Are you feeling hope-less today?   Then God speaks to you of hope
Are you in a position to bring hope to others?
Then God’s invitation to be active about it is strong.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops — at all….”   (Emily Dickinson)

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