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God With Us, part 1: Hope

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. — Romans 12:12

There is not much reason to be optimistic, but there is every reason to hope. — Desmond Tutu

Advent is above all a season of hope as we prepare to celebrate God’s coming in Christ. For this reason I both love and struggle with Advent. Too often I look at the world around me and believe that I see changes for the worse. The children I know seem to spend most of their time glued to their screens instead of being in the created world. Our elected representatives seem to spend most of their time and energy on fundraising and mutual recriminations instead of problem-solving. Our society pushes for cheap energy and economic boosts  in the form of hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal and dirty technologies instead of safeguarding the perennial resources that we actually need in order to survive.

I have friends who tell me they feel hopeful anyway because of grassroots movements for social change, or because of new technological breakthroughs. I’m glad for these friends, and I value some of the things that give them hope, but I can’t follow them all the way. I can’t look at the way the world changes and convince myself that overall things are getting better.

Fortunately, I don’t need to. I don’t need a vision that allows me to predict or try to control the future. I don’t need optimism. I need a hope that lives and burns in me in spite of all discouragement, that reminds me that life is worth living, my work is worth doing well, and my neighbors and my God are worth loving. I need to remember that God is present with us now, suffering with us in our brokenness and blindness, working and loving through us when we let him, turning anger into courage, sorrow into compassion, pleasure into joy. That, for me, is the heart of the Incarnation: God in us, God with us.

When I remember that I don’t need any guarantees for later. I have all that I need and more, here and now. If I let God work and love in me and transform my life I may help to create a better future. I will certainly help to create a better present. That’s enough.

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