“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)
Our God is the God of hope, and in Advent we wait in hope. Advent teaches us that even when the days seem dark, hope is as essential a part of our spirituality as are worship, repentance, and service to others.
There are signs of hope here and there with regard to the environment. People seem more aware of and accepting of alternative forms of energy; wind farms, for example, are becoming more common in our part of the country. Midlanders generally seem to be more aware of the need to recycle what we can and to use energy and water as efficiently as possible. In the work of our diocese, there seems to be an increasing sense of stewardship about the distances we travel to do our work; we more often make intentional choices about when we need to meet in person and when we can meet by telephone or video call.
On the other hand, there are less hopeful signs – the increasing rate of climate change and our increasing understanding of how short a time we have left to act , the increasing amounts of plastic in the oceans and the marine food chain, and the failure of policymakers in America (where the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has just been eliminated) and other countries to address these issues and other environmental issues.
This year in Advent in Cancun – as last year during Advent in Copenhagen – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is meeting. Expectations are not high for significant agreements to come out of this conference, but there is hope of progress in some areas. No doubt the liturgical calendar has nothing to do with the scheduling of these meetings, but it’s interesting that Advent has become a time when we look for signs of hope that the nations might come to address the urgent problem of climate change to a significant degree. The expectations are low, but Advent teaches us to hope.
My brother, an historian specializing in American history, reminds me that in 1850, few “reasonable” people thought slavery would end in their lifetime, and that many serious writers in the late 1950’s saw no possibility of ending racial segregation for dozens of years. In some ways, these important societal changes happened just when things seemed least hopeful.
People of faith were instrumental in the abolition movement and the civil rights movement. Hope and faith go together. I’m no historian, but I wonder if the hopeful nature of people of faith was what kept these movements going against all odds so that when the time suddenly was ripe, there were visible advocates for these causes.
I’ve noticed flocks of geese and robins this week; I suppose they are beginning their journeys a bit late after the warmth of November. Meanwhile, juncos and finches have begun coming to my feeders more frequently. Remembering Emily Dickinson’s words – “Hope is the thing with feathers” -- the birds are a visible reminder both of hope and of God’s beautiful and wondrous creatures whose survival, along with ours, is at stake.