Advent 2021: A Season Of Healing And Hope – December 6
December 5, 2021
Hoping and Faithing
The Rev. Dr. Matt Henry
(Matt is a graduate of the (ex) ABSW seminary in Berkeley, CA (1999), an ordained ABC and UMC pastor, a gratefully retired social services volunteer, a recent widower and broken sinner in need of restoration who wrestles daily with hoping and faithing)
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,Psalm 126 (NRSV)
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
6 A voice says, “Cry out!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.Romans 8:22-25 (NRSV)
The Season of Advent, as Christians are well-aware, entails the actions of waiting (in patience) and hoping. But waiting and hoping for what? In a word that describes the entire Christian canon, from Genesis 1-Revelation 22—restoration (although redemption would be a viable alternative). An all-encompassing restoration from our brokenness, our loneliness, our exile, our grief, our longing for that peace to which St. Augustine refers as being “restless until it rests in Thee.”
In the three chosen texts here— (Psalm 126; Isaiah 40:1-11; Romans 8:22-25) we receive sheer poetry in how restoration takes place. Such phrases as “[W]e were like those who dream (Ps. 126),” “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that she has served her term, her penalty paid (Isaiah 40),” and “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains (Romans 8)” for me encapsulate what it means to be human, what it means to move from sorrow to joy.
The Psalm and Isaiah readings are exilic documents. They describe from both present to future perspectives the Babylonian captivity that took place roughly 597-539 BC. Sowing tears/then reaping joy, weeping/then laughing, and protection of the vulnerable (sheep: orphans/widows/the poor/immigrants) are metaphors common to Jewish experience. We might say these texts of the common human experience reflect the “is-ness that brings us to then-ness” or “was-ness to now-ness.” But what does any of this have to do with you and me as we ponder icing cookies, making ginger-bread, roasting turkey and potatoes, shopping, consuming today while we wait (in patience and hope?) for tomorrow?
My only wife of forty-two years, Amy Pearson, died in August from a dreadful battle with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. As anyone who’s had to lose their spouse in such a manner will tell you, the pain is excruciating, lengthy and beyond description to those who haven’t lived it. To watch the love of your life, your best friend, both sister and lover, your soulmate, slowly vanish into Sheol before your eyes; to gradually tick off the last drive behind the wheel, the last written word, the last spoken word, the last kiss, the last smile, the last walk, the last, last, last—the anguish for me was/is beyond comprehension. I’ve never known such sorrow, such lostness. I have come close to losing the ability to be “like those who dream.” Amy was a fellow ABSW-matriculated pastor; she taught a class in spirituality at LABC at one time. Like me, she was a member of the church (I remain one in exile in the Great PNW). She was brilliant, articulate, charming, compassionate, gracious, forgiving, generous to a fault and everything a loving spouse could claim. I feel like a halved man, which I am, remaining restless until I rest in her once more. But there’s the hope in it: What for me is my painful captivity in Sheol is for her the liberation from a nasty disease. The faith I have is slender, beaten as the desert reed, transparent for the toll it’s taken, barely holding on. But it’s there, surviving only in the hope I have in eventual Divine Cosmic Restoration, a slim hope in a great pandemic.
In Romans, Paul suggests that salvation lies in the act of hoping itself: “In hope, we are saved (8:24).” Jesus often and mysteriously claims that “your faith has saved you.” Hope and faith, then, or rather “hoping and faithing,” are restorative in themselves. For sure, one without any chance of hope is as good as dead, and one facing death has no chance of hope. Unless. . . .
As a Christian, despite the unrelenting pain, I remain called to faithing and hoping—and waiting with patience until the Advent of my sojourn without Amy is over. In this, I remain as one who dreams.