Hope Gets in Everywhere!

Posted: December 25, 2019 in Uncategorized

‘Hope Gets in Everywhere!’        

Today we conclude Advent and put down both our ‘preparation’ and our ‘anticipation’. That is of course if we have prepared. We might have anticipated, been alert to or considered what Christmas will mean to us but have we prepared?

I want to tell you two stories that I think might help with both a preparation for Christmas and what anticipation might look like.

The first is a story from storyteller John Shea about a simple event he experienced.

Shea was in a rush three days before Christmas and found himself in the parking lot of the local supermarket when a woman was hoisting bags of groceries out of the shopping trolley into the boot of her car.

The woman was muttering away to herself: I’m not going to make it. I’m not going to make it.

As he passed her, John Shea smiled and being positive and a bit cheeky said to her: You’re going to make it. You’re going to make it.

He was a little proud of his double assurance of success, countering her double prediction of defeat with a positive double assurance.

To his surprise the woman’s head came out of the car boot and she stared at Shea with a ‘what-the-hell-would-you-know-mate’ kind of look. And then in a voice as adamant as a stamped foot, she said: I’m not going to make it.

Chastened by her adamant rejection of his positivity Shea hurried on into the supermarket, got the few items he needed and proceeded to the checkout. When he got to the checkout lines he found that even the ‘under 12 items’ line had 20 people in it and he wondered if he was going to make it!  (Shea 1993:19)

For many of us, I suspect this is our story too. Our ‘preparation’ during Advent is more about surviving pre-Christmas busyness and anxiety than about being ready. But what about our ‘anticipation’?

The second story is actually a poem by Mary Oliver. I think it speaks about how to anticipate Christmas, the coming of Jesus, the incarnation of divinity. Its called ‘The Sun”

The Sun

Have you ever seen
in your life
more wonderful

than the way the sun,
every evening,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon

and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone–
and how it slides again

out of the blackness,
every morning,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower

streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance–
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love–

do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure

that fills you,
as the sun
reaches out,
as it warms you

as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world–

or have you too
gone crazy
for power,
for things?

– Mary Oliver

Listening the theologian, John Cobb, of whom we have quoting these last weeks he suggests: “The temperature of anticipation in many of our churches… in Advent, is low.  Many Christians expect very little.  They expect to go through some enjoyable experiences, receive some gifts, sing some carols, and then get on with their routine lives.”  (Cobb, P&F Web site, 2008)

Advent may be a time of preparation and anticipation. But in the ‘fair dinkum department’ how can that be for us?

Much of the gospel story this Fourth Sunday in Advent centres on Matthew’s rather sketchy outline surrounding the birth of Jesus. And I am sure you will have recognised
that between Matthew’s version – which we heard today, and Luke’s version – which we traditionally hear around this time of the year from all sorts of places, there is a fair degree of difference.

The thing is that they are very different.  And despite attempts to the contrary by both the church and the many ‘Carols by Candlelight’ events, they can’t be harmonized into one grand, neat story. Much as we pretend they do.

In artistic terms, Luke’s picture is full of bright primary colours. A cheerful story. A buoyant, hopeful, joyous story. Matthew’s picture, on the other hand, is a picture using a darker palette.

The colours are more somber darker hues.  A gothic story even – disturbing, disquieting.

Actually, on second thoughts, Matthew’s story does not actually narrate the birth of Jesus at all. It is implied. Meanwhile, much theological ink and energy has been wasted
on the debate surrounding the matter of virgin birth or virgin conception. For the record many of us happen to believe that, despite what many English translations of the Bible say: Matthew did not believe in a virgin birth. Neither did Paul. But Luke probably did.

The Hebrew text of Isaiah which Matthew quotes clearly has nothing to do with virginity. At most it means only that a young woman, who is now a virgin, will become pregnant.  No ‘miracle’ is intended.

What has fueled the debate goes back nearly 60 years or so. When in the 1950s the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the Bible properly translated the Isaiah words with ‘young woman’, “some fundamentalists were so upset that they sponsored public burnings of [it]. The official Catholic translation, the New American Bible, uses ‘virgin’ in (Isaiah) because bishops overruled the Catholic scholars and demanded that it be mistranslated.”  (Miller 2003:95)

So where in the midst of all this, is our hope?  The ground of this Advent season? And how can we be empowered to live fully, to love wastefully, and dare be all we can possibly be, as Jack Spong urges us?

The reality is that very few of us if any anticipate that Jesus will come, or come again, in any literal sense. Our hope today is shaped by a ‘progressive theological’ understanding of incarnation: Our God, however we understand God acts in the world in and through our actions. As we are open to our God’s working within us, Jesus comes. Metaphorically but no less true and real.

As we seek to serve God, we are never alone. As we experience again and again, Emmanuel, our God-is-with-us, so, during these closing days of Advent and in the rapidly approaching season of Christmas, we can anticipate God’s renewing and transforming present-ness, now, even as we explore and remember God’s focused ‘coming’ in Jesus in the past. And in hope we can encourage others to also recognise ‘the sacred’ where they are. Because, our hope is directed to what God is doing. And what we believe, with God, we can do and will do in the days and years ahead.

So this Advent and this Christmas, let us manifest that hope in all the nooks and crannies of our various communities, let’s get it in everywhere. Amen.

Miller, R. J. Born Divine. The Births of Jesus and Other Sons of God. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2003.
Shea, J. Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long. New York. Crossroad, 1993.


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