“Hope is a waking dream.” These are the words of Greek Philosopher, Aristotle and I was drawn to them this week. Because we are living in a time that cries out for hope, it is a moment that begs for hope! There is a long list of things that feel hopeless- parts of our creation and parts of our democratic republic that seem ruined beyond repair.
So what does it mean to have hope?
The season of Advent is all about hope. But not the flavor advertised so widely- a kind of hope that can be found with a solitaire or a SUV. And Advent hope is not the kind expressed in some of Christian theology, where a Messiah makes Judaism only worthy because it launches Christianity. This is Supersessionism, also called replacement theology, which asserts that the New Covenant through Jesus Christ supersedes the Old Covenant, made exclusively with the Jewish people. It is a fancy way of saying that hope comes from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is a fulfillment of another religious thread and therefore “cancels” it out to start a new one. This is anti-Jewish, harmful and also not true to the historical context.
And hope doesn’t come from a God who kills his son to be the final “lamb” for all time, so we are ensured the avoidance eternal damnation. That is not hope to us.
Hope is not the same as idealism or optimism; hope is not a political slogan. It is not an anti-intellectual exercise for those who fail to acknowledge reality.
In the words of Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson an Advent kind of hope is not giving in to fear. He writes, “No matter how desperate the moment, we are told, time is on the side of hope. Such hope does not come naturally to human beings. On the evidence of our senses, despair is perfectly rational. Entropy is built into nature. Decay is knit into our flesh. By all appearances, the universe is cold, empty and indifferent. There is a certain bleak dignity in accepting the challenge of a hopeless cause. But most of us can’t be content in this state. We fill the void with cries of protest, or hymns of thanksgiving, or demands for justice. This search for answers seems essential to our humanity. It is possible, of course, that our deepest longings are actually cruel jokes of nature. But it is also possible and rational that our longings are hints of a reality beyond nature. Perhaps our desires exist because they are meant to be fulfilled…” “Advent is a declaration of war upon fear.”
An advent kind of hope is not giving in to fear because fear closes us off; shuts us down and stops us from being moved to do one thing or anything for the world that God imagines.
If we are hopeful, we are choosing a posture in the world and we are making a countercultural commitment to let our dreams be made real, to be awake for them, to show up for them, keeping them alive with our intentions, our prayers and the patterns of our days.
Hope means we see the space between what is and the world God longs to be… and we give our hearts to it.
Hope for us, is refusing to give up on a world that does not yet exist In the face of all that is, hope is all of us choosing, living, building, believing in a world that is on its way, but isn’t yet here.
This is not a hollow hope, but a deep hope and it seems to me that holding hope like this means being willing to endure the wilderness, being able to keep the smallest flame lit, even in the darkest darkness.
That is right where we meet Jesus and John in our scripture this morning.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have the birth story, the visit of the wise men, the family’s escape to Egypt, a description of Herod’s effort to kill all of the children in and around Bethlehem and the family’s return to Nazareth. And then without much notice we jump to Jesus’ later years where we encounter a bizarre preacher, Jesus’ cousin John, known widely as John the Baptist and he greets us with, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near!”
We are told that John fled the comfort of the city, moved to the desert and clothed himself in animal skins and ate meals of insects and wild honey. He was accused of being possessed by a demon and it seems like nearly all of his sermons were about repentance. He appears to have gone a bit rogue, but being from an important family, his father a priest in the city, maybe there was gossip, but permission for him to depart for the desert, at least for a time.
And if Jesus was looking for John, it probably didn’t take long. He could probably hear his shouts booming over the hills, shouting at the crowds, “You brood of vipers!” But then Jesus came upon the group who was asking John questions as they stood at the Jordan River running through the desert landscape. He heard this, The voices cry out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’
John was baptizing soldiers and tax collectors, people with various ailments, those deemed unworthy or unclean, those who didn’t get along- anyone and everyone searching for life giving water and a chance for a good tomorrow, in a dry desert of a world, they could receive what was offered, they came to the wilderness and found hope.
Even though announcing God’s forgiveness was supposed to happen with the temple establishment in Jerusalem, with Jesus’ uncle, John sprinkles the waters of belovedness on everyone who came, including Jesus. Hope is a God-sized dream for all to be connected across chasms, not just within the walls of a sacred space and not just within the approved rituals of tradition, but right here in the wilderness.
There are of course myriad ways to read this story of Jesus’ baptism, but this year, in this season, I wonder if the wisdom of our tradition is telling us that preparing the way, living the peaceable kin-dom, creating the blueprint for a world the Divine designs with our hope is a refusal to give up on a world that does not yet exist. Hope is choosing to experience the available Heaven that is right here, hope is making pockets, little tastes of the wild and wonderful in this realm, here and now.
In the words of William Herzog II, “The passage (in Matthew) looks forward to the grand transition: the advent of a new age that can be reached only by finding a way through the wilderness and living through judgment into hope.”
And I would contend that the new age is the present moment. Hope is a dream that we are alive to plant the seeds for- a dream that we will show up for, one we promise to be awake for and one that might require us to go through a wilderness…
But I think that is why this story begins by quoting Isaiah: Prepare the way of the Lord….and do it like this.
Refuse to give up on a world that does not yet exist. Choose, live, build, believe in a world that is on its way. Because hope is a waking dream. Hope is the courage to see and live in the space between what is and what God longs to be…
I love how Barbara Kingsolver says it: the most we can do is to live inside hope. “Not to admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof…. Right now I'm living in that hope, running down its hallway and touching the walls on both sides.”
In a time where we are afraid of one another; in a world divided by economics and religion, culture and war, where those in power profit from encagements, separations and disagreements, let us refuse to give up on the world that is still on its way, and in the meantime, we can create little heavens right here. That’s what we do: in the face of rapid climate change, we have planted a garden and have launched a micro-gardening movement in South Boulder. In the face of a housing crisis, we continue to build! Ten of us braved the cold yesterday to build homes with Habitat for Humanity. In the face of anger and fear, we are creating connections of compassion, across categories of all kinds, right here.
Hope is seeing the space between what is and the world God longs to be… and giving our hearts to it.
Let us have hope to wait even when we cannot hear the angels singing. Let us go into the wilderness and dare to find a blessing. Let us journey beyond your comfort and let our dreams wake up. May it be so.