FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
Psalm 24:7-10 and Isaiah 60:1-3
In 2004, in post-communist Ukraine, a man named Victor Yushchenko stood in opposition for the presidency. He was vehemently opposed by the ruling party and had even been mysteriously poisoned by dioxin, which almost killed him and left his face disfigured. Yet, this was not enough to deter him from running. On the day of the election it was clear that Yushchenko was comfortably in the lead. The corrupt ruling party, however, tampered with the results. The state-run television station reported “ladies and gentlemen, we announce that the challenger Victor Yushchenko has been decisively defeated.”
In the lower right-hand corner of the screen a woman by the name of Natalia Dmitruk was providing a translation service for the deaf community. As the news presenter regurgitated the lies of the regime, Natalia Dmitruk refused to translate them. Instead, she signed: “I’m addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine. They are lying and I’m ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our president.”
Those in the deaf community who saw Natalia’s message sprang into gear and began to pass the news along of the fraudulent election results by text messaging their friends. As news spread of Dmitruk’s act of defiance increasing numbers of journalists were inspired to likewise tell the truth. Incredibly, the people of the Ukraine found inspiration and hope to take action. Over the coming weeks, what is known as the “Orange Revolution” occurred as a million Ukrainians wearing orange made their way to the capital city of Kiev demanding a new election. The government was forced to meet their demands, a new election was held and Victor Yushchenko became president.
In his book, “What Good is God?” Philip Yancey writes: “When I heard the story behind the orange revolution, the image of a small screen of truth and hope in the corner of the big screen of mis-information, propaganda, and lies became for me an ideal picture of the church for we do not control the message of the big screen. Go to any magazine rack or turn on the television (or go to your computer) and you see a consistent message. What matters is how beautiful you are, how much money or power you have. Our society is hardly unique. Throughout history nations have glorified winners, not losers, power over truth. Then, like the sign language translator in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, along came the person named Jesus saying in effect, Have hope. Don’t believe the big screen – they’re lying. (Source: Philip Yancey, What Good Is God, pages 184-186) Today’s news on the big screen of the world is no better than it was in 2004 – scandals continue to rock our world, governments continue their corruption, inequality and prejudice are still rampant. It is enough to make a person give in and give up. Yet, we can reject that message just as Natalia Dmitruk rejected the message of the corrupt Ukrainian government and we can hold onto and proclaim a different message – the truth – our hope doesn’t come from governments or institutions. It is in Christ who lifts us up and gives us hope.
As we enter this season of Advent, we begin this first week by lighting the candle of hope. But what does that mean? A pastoral colleague, April Fiet, is lighting this season an anti-advent wreath. April declares that she has never deviated from the traditional advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love. She admits that we need them – we need more hope, we need more peace, we need more joy, we need more love, but we may be living without them because we haven’t come to understand them. She figures that by looking at their opposites we may better understand them. April says “As I reflect on hope and its opposite,” says April, “I am convinced that hope, while including emotion, is not in itself an emotion, but a state of being which refuses to let go of the rope we are holding onto, even if we are only holding on by a thread.” Even if we feel like we’ve give up, hope can still be there with us.
The word for “hope” in Hebrew comes from the same root word as the word for “wait. The Hebrew word “tiqvah” has a dual meaning: one is that of “cord” (as in the crimson cord from the story of Rahab in Joshua 2:21) and it also means “hope.” Hope is like a rope thrown to us when we desperately need it, it is like the rope we sometimes feel we are barely hanging onto.
So, what would be the opposite of hope. April Fiet suggests that the opposite of hope is resignation. It is an active refusal to hold onto the rope because it’s not worth the work. Resignation says, “why bother?” Resignation believes that things will never get better, while also working to ensure that things never do. How often do we place the cover of resignation over the light of hope? (And not only for ourselves, but others. It is wrong when we resign a person to a box we have made for them – by judging, by holding the past against them, by believing there is no hope for them – it is wrong because it precludes the work of God in their life; it precludes the spark and hope of Christ which is present in all). If you must give into resignation – could it be resignation into the arms of Christ around you and to the light of Christ within you? Could you resign yourself to the tenacious, unbreakable bond of God’s love?
And couldn’t we start a little revolution of our own – a hope revolution? One in which we are in direct opposition to the big screen, negative resigned world, could we spread the word, one by one that there is hope – hang in there. Christ continues to offer hope – hope that endures. Jesus says, “come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) Even when we feel unable to have hope, Christ extends to us the cord of hope, inviting us to take hold along with him. Today, as we have lit the candle of hope in our advent wreath – could you light the candle of hope in your heart? Arise – shine for the light has come.
Take time, in the busy-ness of this season, to pay attention – the light of God’s love is discernible everywhere. Let yourself be surprised by wonder, set aside time to offer thanks. The good news of Advent is this: Christ is coming. Christ is always coming. We will welcome Christ into our hearts as we go from this place in hope. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, will be with you now and always. Amen!