11/29/20 Romans 8:24-25 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. This is the Sunday that begins the season of Advent. It technically starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. Advent means “coming” or “arrival”, and the entire season focuses on celebrating the arrival of the Christ through the birth of Jesus, and the anticipation of the Christ awareness being reborn again within us. Advent is comprised of four specific elements: Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy. This week we direct our hearts and minds on the idea of Hope – strong and confident expectancy, that aspect of believing in the unseen, the not yet formed but anticipated parts of our lives. This first week is all about certainty, intention, and purpose. Advent is about being freed from the shackles of doubt, fear, hatred, superiority, envy, lust, intolerance, disrespect, bigotry, and all other temptations of the mind, body, and ego that the world enticingly waives in front of us. Advent begins with our hope in the deliverance from our darkness by God, who hears our cries and provides the Light of the Christ. Hope is the power that separates the survivor from the victim. As long as we can cling to hope, we can endure anything, recover from anything. Hope is the vision and desire and dream of our heart. Hope often lies dormant until we need it and call upon its power, and then it whispers to our hearts that we can persevere; we can bear the burden until the challenge has been met. Hope is the belief that circumstances will change and get better. It is Hope that tells us, “This too shall pass.” Hope is not a wish or a frivolous reverie, but an actual belief, the knowledge that things will get better. Hope is what taps on the mother’s heart that although she has lost her job another one – the right and perfect one – is just around the next corner as long as she keeps looking. Anyone who has survived an ordeal, and was at the last of their resources physically, mentally, and emotionally, will point to Hope as their champion for survival. Winston Churchill allegedly expressed it this way: “Never, never, never, never, never give up.” He never really said that. But is makes a nice point. Martin Luther King Jr. did say, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” I have learned that it takes effort to retain hope; to abandon the fears and doubts, and outside influences that can strip us of hope. When we can cling to hope, regardless of how distant or faint it may be it makes way for endless possibilities. Hope opens the bedroom door and allows a little ray of light to enter…enough light to dispel those dreadful imaginary monsters that live under the bed. A life devoid of hope and Light is a lost and lonely life. It reminds me of Mom losing her wedding ring a few years back. She had visited some stores one day, and when she got home a few hours later, she realized that her ring was missing. She could have lost it anywhere. She retraced her steps to no avail. But she kept hoping and praying that it would turn up, never abandoning hope. We called a couple of the stores and left our names just in case someone found the ring. Mom continued hoping, and a couple of days later a store manager called and said she had found the ring. It was the power of hope that enabled Mom to reunite with her beloved wedding ring. Hope gives us the power to continue looking, continue searching for the lost, continue loving, and to continue dreaming. Psychologists tell us that those that live through any challenge or disaster can be classified into two categories: either as psychological victims or psychological survivors. The victims are passive, pessimistic, and look to the past for better times. Their cries are for someone to help them. Their grief turns to despair and they are consumed by their loss, refusing to help themselves. The psychological survivors, as you can imagine, are just the opposite. They are active, positive, and look to the future for better times. They also grieve, but they persevere, continue to fight, and search for ways to help themselves. Throughout our lives there are times when we allow the shadows of challenges to overcome us. We stop hoping; we defer it, put it to the side, and the resulting hopelessness dries us out. Proverbs 13:12 says this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” A 2010 study on atherosclerosis, narrowing of the arteries, concluded that the people with persistent depression over a ten-year period had double the incidence of the disease. Another study showed that people with severe depression had a 66% greater chance of dying prematurely than others. Hope deferred makes the heart sick – literally. The lack of hope can cause our hearts as well as our spirits to weaken. And what can cause us to set aside hope if we are not attentive and vigilant? Life. Almost anything: a death of a loved one, rejection, job or relationship difficulties, illness, disappointment. If we are not spiritually prepared, and mentally and emotionally armed from the practice of attuning to the Christ, we can abandon hope. As I have aged, I have become increasingly aware of the difficulty of calling upon my creative vision – my hope – to help me create my life. I have found that other people’s expectations, hopes, and dreams for me can cloud my own hopes and dreams. My vision can be sabotaged by the good intentions of others. Sometimes, I can be cynical about the possibilities that present themselves. As we engage our advancing years, it is easy to abandon hope and give way to cynicism, fear and dread. It is easy to stop looking for the good that God has in store for us. It is easy to allow life’s challenges and failures and disappointments to influence our vision, expectations, and hope. Considering that, here are four attributes that are important to maintaining and expressing the Hope that is within us. #1. We spoke about this last week: Gratitude. It is important to express thanks for what we have right now today to loosen up the calcified hope that lives within us. We cannot dwell upon the past and what we’ve lost and remain hopeful. It is a daily focus: be grateful for what we have right now. #2. We must have faith. Part of faith believes that there is something bigger and more important than us. Faith is the focus that gives us a reason to keep going. From a spiritual standpoint, that reason is God. Our faith in God will keep us moving forward. And the world can offer us reasons to have faith: it can be a child, a mission, a cause, a loved one. Faith and Hope are similar but differ. Faith serves our understanding, Hope, our will. Faith teaches, prescribes, and directs, whereas Hope stirs up the mind and inspires the heart so that we are emboldened, made courageous and patient enough to endure adversity, and wait for the better to arrive. But the ego at times ambushes our Faith and we lose our focus on the Light. That is when Hope steps up and wrestles with the darkness that has assaulted out Faith. Always looking forward, Hope pulls us out of the darkness to be joined again by Faith. This victory results in Peace, and Joy, and Love – the other virtues of Advent. #3. Another quality that aids in the arrival of Hope is Love. Hope leans forward to Love, Joy, and Peace, while Love reaches out to Hope. When we are experiencing stressful times, knowing that love exists is sometimes all it takes for Hope to appear. I know it is so with me. When I am having difficulties, if I can be around Mary, it makes things better. #4 Vision, or imagination, is critical to expressing Hope. Think about the people you love and those who love you – family and friends. Just envisioning, imagining, thinking about loving and being loved is often all it takes for darkness to dissipate. For we were saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. Paul tells us that hope is to look at something we cannot see; in other words, we are imagining it; seeing it with our hearts. When we dream, we are entering into Divine territory. God plants desires and images on our hearts that benefit all involved. It is our spiritual nature to hope, dream, yearn, and expect. Unconsciously, we long to be connected to our Divine Source. We stumble about in life until these buried longings become conscious desires, intentions. Then they are fed and watered by hope. There is a fable about a farmer finding a little sparrow laying on its back in the middle of his field. The farmer went over to the bird and asked, “Why are you on your back?” The sparrow responded, “I heard the sky is going to fall to day.” The farmer laughed and said, “So I suppose your spindly little legs are going to hold up the sky?” And the sparrow answered, “One does what one can.” Hope allows us to resist resignation and defeat, and do what we can. We may not be able to create world peace, but we can do what we can by establishing an environment of peace within our own hearts. We may not be able to solve the conflicts within our nation or family, but hope allows us to do what we can. We can attune our hearts and minds to Christ, find inner harmony, and move toward resolving our own personal issues. We can choose to move forward intrepidly with hope rather than rolling over in despair and victimhood and blame others for our troubles. We can do what we can; it may not be much, but we can do something. Despite the challenges and obstacles that we face, we have the hope of the Christ within us. Hear the words of Romans 8:38-39 and feel the hope. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can't, and life can't. The angels can't, and the demons can't. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can't keep God's love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. And where there is God’s love, there is hope. Hope can be rekindled by simple things: an encouraging word, seeing someone else face their challenges, a helping hand when we stumble. Lastly, in Hebrews 10:23 we are taught: “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” Proverbs 18:21 claims: “Those who love to talk will experience the consequences, for the tongue can kill or nourish life.” In short, the words we choose, and by corollary the thoughts that lead to those words, produce life or death, good or evil, productive or unproductive consequences. Hope is found in the revelation that we and God are co-creators of our lives. This is the first Sunday of Advent. It is my prayer that we prepare for the rebirthing of Christ within our hearts, minds, and lives. As part of that preparation, my prayer is that we choose hope through our words and thoughts, and attitudes and feelings. I pray that the choices we make allow God to move in and through us and our lives, healing us, and filling us with hope. I pray that the hope of Advent enwraps our hearts and enriches our souls with the desires, dreams, courage, and faith to “do what we can” as we allow our awareness of the rebirth of Christ to grow within us.