We will soon start the Advent season, with its signal focus on hope: our hope for personal happiness and well-being, our hope for the renewal and improvement of society, and our hope for global, even cosmic reconciliation and peace. These are not separate hopes. Inner peace recalls outer peace. Thinking of one reminds us of the others.
As Universalist Christians, we are keen to speak of hope in the grandest of terms; the Larger Hope, right? A Complete Gospel, surely? Insisting and concentrating on hope’s largeness is an affirmation of God’s nature, “whose nature is Love” as stated in the Winchester Profession. We can depend on God because God is just: divine law (revealed or assumed) does not contradict or overcome divine nature. We see evidence of this divine love across scripture and in our lives. It preceeds the creation of the universe and gives us life. We trust God out of a sense of the greatness of divine love, down to the last soul, down to that last day.
But most of the time, when we speak of hope, it isn’t about the cosmic, but about coping with ordinary things, multiplied a thousand times. Will this interview lead to that job, which will provide that money which will resolve this debt? That’s one scenario; there are countless others. Where’s the sense of the infinite when we shuttle from need to need, or crisis to crisis? In these terms, hope is little more than getting by, and that itself is not assured. God is no less grand, or less loving, just less relevant.
Wonder can heal this restlessness. When the world bends down our heads, compressing our outlook, we can look up with the Psalmist:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4, NRSV)
The question suggests another option, but it’s not necessarity a better option. Perhaps human beings are so insignificant as to be unworthy of love, or care, or hope. Horror writers like H. P. Lovecraft could do no more to set us on edge and against an unfeeling universe.
But the Psalmist did not end there:
Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. (v. 5)
Preachers often use this verse to describe human dignity, but it also puts our ordinary hopes within God’s view, and crowns them “with glory and honor.” From the divine perspective, so far as we can know it, there is no absolute distinction between “big hopes” and small.
A stronger sense of hope depends on seeing God in the everyday, and tying the everyday to the greatness of God. And even if we have a hard time believing in wonder, we can borrow the wonder other have until our own capacity is replenished. Thus, friends, we must be willing and able to project that wonder in our own time. What better way to mark Advent? What greater gift at all times? Wonder of wonders: God’s love includes you even in the most dismal or grinding times of life.
Advent leads us through human history and points to that moment, the coming birth of Jesus Christ, where God by taking on our nature endows the everyday with divinity. Its growing holy light is among us, tying heaven and earth.
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(The Rev.) Scott Wells