As the days grow shorter, it is an ancient practice to ground the journey toward the divine in hope. The Christian church marks the beginning of the church year with the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Christians mark the four-week journey that begins this coming Sunday by lighting a weekly candle. Additional candles will be lit each Sunday leading to Christmas.
The first is the candle of hope.
This flame reminds us of God’s promise of abiding presence in times of darkness.
During this season, we are reminded of the words of prophets. These faithful brought divine words of hope in times of political upheaval and distress. We also reflect on the journey of Joseph and Mary and others who courageously traveled in the face of uncertainty toward new life.
Hope: More Than a Wish
Of all life’s virtues, I think hope is the most difficult to explain. Some people think of hope as wishing for a positive outcome like winning the Mega Millions lottery. Others live toward it while being doubtful of a positive outcome. The Apostle Paul writes:
“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:19 NRSV).
A willingness to live in hope can be difficult, especially during the holiday season. The Christmas lights and holiday activities can create joy for some, while increasing the sadness of others. Shortened daylight hours and long, dark nights create additional stress for people grieving a loss, dealing with depression or living in despair.
Darkness Will Not Overcome
It can be helpful to acknowledge one’s feelings of sadness and grief. The sharing of concerns with a caring friend, family member or professional can create space for a dim light of hope to slowly ignite. Affirming the presence of God’s holy spirit during moments of loneliness can also enhance the light on one’s path. When I ask residents about how they live in hope their most common response is “I just take one step at a time.”
Twenty years ago, I began my cancer journey. Working full time, recovering from surgery and starting a six-month course of chemotherapy was a daunting task. My deepest hope during this difficult time was to live long enough to see both my children grow into adulthood. I wanted to see them complete their college educations and become gainfully employed before my own life came to an end.
Journey of Blessing
Family, friends, co-workers and my church community cheered me along the way. The journey was difficult, more perilous at times. Some days, just taking one small step forward demanded all my energy. I was humbled by small acts of kindness that blessed and energized me in the most unexpected ways. A gratitude journal and daily meditation deepened the anchor of my faith, allowing me to complete my course of treatment.
The lessons I learned during that dark and challenging time have provided invaluable tools for my life journey. Grounded in hope and walking in faith, my journey the past 20 years has been an amazing experience. I am surrounded by a community of warmth, friendship and care. My call into seminary, ministry and chaplaincy has surpassed even my wildest dreams. It is a blessing that I saw both my children complete law school and joyfully follow their own paths. And, I thank my daughter and son-in-law for the greatest gift of my life: my granddaughter, Eleanor.
As I age and continue to walk in faith, my hope is that I may help others ground themselves in hope. I pray that my love and service may help to open their souls to seek to follow the light of our God’s steadfast presence. May this season of Advent provide the space that we all might know hope. And may the Advent season lead us toward peace, joy and eternal love that invites us into the divine, yet mysterious future.
Blessings on your Advent journey.