By Mary Ellen Mitchell
Often when we speak of religious or churchy terms like hope, faith or joy (the kinds of words we use a lot during Advent) we need to remind ourselves that, in some mysterious way, there are two worlds that we live in at the same time.
You’re thinking “she’s crazy.” But let me use a metaphor I know my kids are familiar with. In Harry Potter Harry usually lives between the land of muggles and the land of wizards. There are muggle things like telephones that make no sense to wizards and wizard things like Quiddich that make no sense to muggles—though he can see and understand them both. Both worlds exist, sometimes right alongside each other, but only a few special people know about it. When we read about the possibility of this other wizard world and imagine that it could be just on the other side of the subway wall, our minds are captivated. Each book that Annie and I have read, and we’ve been at it on and off for about a year, have been page turners!
What if there’s another world that God created and wanted. In that world there is no death, no racism, no sexism, no hunger, no homelessness, no loneliness. This Advent season the older kids and I have put aside Harry Potter and traded it for Bible stories. It’s one way that we’ve been making room for Jesus in our lives. We’ve been reading a children’s Bible and the story we started with told us about another world. Kids, do you remember the world that Adam and Eve lived in? Can you tell us about it?
The story of Adam and Eve might be the most important story in the Bible, because it’s the story that tells us that God is really good. When we grapple with all of the bad in our world sometimes we ask “Why did God make it this way?” But the Garden of Eden myth tells us that God didn’t—actually we, human beings make choices every day and many of those choices are bad ones. It was choice, not design, that ended paradise. This story, more than a definite happening of history, is a story that helps us understand the world at a deeper level. Versions of it exist in many cultures, and I’d go as far as to say it’s tells us something about the very heart of what it means to be a human.
So here’s where Hope comes in, and why it’s important to understand that Hope is a uniquely religious word. It’s a word that only makes sense if God is real. Our deepest hope, our one true hope, is that what’s broken about this world we live in won’t always be. After Adam and Eve made a bad choice, the word Hope came about. Prior to the bad choice, the separation from God, there was no need for hope because all things were right. Hope is a word that’s dependent on God because if there is no real possibility of a world without brokenness, than much of what we work and pray for here at Lydia’s House isn’t Hope at all, it’s just a wish dream.
Remember when I started this talk and said it’s important to know that 2 worlds co-exist. Those worlds are not muggles and wizards. Actually one of those worlds is God’s hoped for reality and the other is just normal or not so great. In God’s reality we have to talk about hope all the time. We hope that all people are housed, we hope that wars end, we hope that everyone can get good health care and healthy food. These hopes are important because they are like a map for what to do next if we want to follow God. In the other world – the just normal or not so great one- we don’t use the word hope or we shouldn’t. We have wishdreams in that world: wishdreams that we might win the lottery and just have so much money we can forget about the world’s problems, wish dreams that a better president would have fixed all the broken ness while we look at Facebook, wish dreams that people alone without God can figure this out. Hope gives us life; wishdreams can take us down paths that end in not much happening, or even in disillusionment.
So hope is a uniquely God centered word. And hope is a word that we talk about in Advent especially because in addition to hope being something that helps us wake up each day and keep on working with God to bring God’s world to the forefront, hope was embodied in Jesus. Each day that we light the candles of advent and count the days, it’s not just toward opening presents, it’s a way that we stand with all people in history who looked for a coming Messiah, a ruler who would bring us back to paradise. Jesus is the embodiment of Hope not because we’re now living in the Garden of Eden but because we saw in his life what our lives should look like if we are really co-workers and friends with God. And even without him physically present in the world, we are guided by his spirit in prayer. Prayer is like our blue print for next steps in building the world that God wants, sometimes against the normal or not so great world that often is at the forefront.
And finally we talk about Hope in advent, because like our ancestors who waited and longed for the birth of Christ, we know that the world we have now isn’t the end of the story. Loving and being in relationship with Jesus fuels our hope that, one day, we will forget completely about the not so great—the world of wars, of hunger, of sadness and death and actually the better world, God’s world, will be all that there is. Some people call this the second coming, some people call this the Kingdom or Kin’dom of God, some people call this heaven. What we know for sure is that as long as people have been around, we’ve all sensed—even if we never read the story of Adam and Eve—that there’s more out there than just a broken world. It’s not just a good thing about being a Christian, but it’s our job, to hold onto hope and to look for signs of God’s world breaking into this world, and to listen and pray for God’s blue print, so we can do our part as we wait expectantly for what God will do next.