Throughout Advent the church gives us readings to reflect on from the prophet Isaiah. Many of these texts were spoken to a group of people who had lost their land, their culture, and who believed that God was punishing them for their unfaithfulness. The temple, the place of God’s holy dwelling, had been taken away from them, and destroyed by the Babylonians. As you ponder this reading today, did you hear the pealing of the bells of hope in the midst of trying times? Even though they are in foreign land, God looks after them.
The voice of the Lord, spoken through the prophet is a voice which offers hope to people in the times of hopelessness. How does the voice of hope speak to us today when we are absorbed not only by the exterior darkness of the lack of sunlight, but also the darkness of the uncertainty of our tomorrows? What gives us courage to move forward when the ground under our feet seems to shift every few weeks? Is there hope when we are tired of hearing about surges and statistics? Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that the proclamations of imminent distribution of a vaccine have begun ringing now that Advent is here. It is the dangling of a carrot before humanity to give us some kind of hope to reach out towards something beyond us.
Hope is a very powerful energy in the human spirit. For when forces pull us down hope sits just beyond our reach and asks us to reach forward, move forward, step forward. Recall the Gospel story where Jesus is walking on the water toward the disciples in the boat and Jesus calls to Peter to get out of the boat and walk to him on the water. As Peter gets out of the boat his eyes are fixed on that before him. He is looking outwards beyond the next few steps. He doesn’t begin sinking until he takes his eyes off Jesus and begins looking down. Hope is that same force. It’s the looking out beyond ourselves to something that is right, true and attainable. Yet we must strive to keep taking another step and reaching to grasp something just beyond our reach. Isaiah speaks words of hope to keep those in captivity from sinking into the darkness. And it is not Isaiah’s words. He is speaking from the compassion of God who sees the abyss of darkness in the people who generations before were called the chosen ones. The Old Testament has numerous places where God brings hope to people out of divine compassion.
Moving into the New Testament the incarnation, the birth of Jesus is about the compassion of God coming among us. How many times have you heard, “A people who walk in darkness have seen a great light”? Today’s gospel moves this a significant step further. It isn’t about us calling out to God to show compassion, it is about Jesus empowering people to be the compassion of his Father. For those who have no imagination how to do this, perhaps they can begin taking a lesson from some of the smallest of children. Have you noticed children have wisdom beyond the common sense of adults? For example, recently I was listening to a video from Valerie Kaur, who was describing coming home after a dark difficult day. And she says:
I come home and my son says, “dance time mommy?” We turn on the music and I kinda sway a little. And then the music rises and my son says, “Pick me up mommy.” I pick him up and throw him in the air, and my little girl now 11 months old we twirl and throwing her up in the air, and suddenly I’m smiling and laughing, and suddenly joy is rushing through my body. When we breathe we let joy in. And joy reminds us of everything that is good, and beautiful, and worth fighting for. How are you protecting your joy every day?
In a time where so many people are saying, “All I want for Christmas is for this year to be over with,” my question is, how are you bringing hope, joy and the compassion of God into all this darkness. I believe it starts by knowing God’s joy and giving it away one person at a time.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the local superior of St. Vincent Strambi Community in Chicago, Illinois.