Oh, Anne Sexton, I do love you so:
“…The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.
There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it…
There is hope…Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.” (Anne Sexton, “Snow”)
It’s all about hope.
Micah was a prophetic oracle
of both judgment and hope,
and he announced the coming destruction of Israel –
which would have seemed obvious
for those not in denial.
But then Micah locates hope for the future
in someone to come from Bethlehem –
which would have seemed a likely choice
to his contemporaries also.
The Matriarch Rachel,
died in Bethlehem and
her grave was a place of pilgrimage.
Bethlehem was the setting for the Book of Ruth,
itself an eloquent oracle of hope.
King David was born in Bethlehem.
So it was an auspicious location to posit the future of hope.
Then in Luke, two pregnant women connect
and a gusher of hope rushes out
like a heart pumping blood.
So, just to put a fine point on it,
Anne Sexton bites into a snow cone of hope.
Standing on the 4th Sunday of Advent,
Christmas Eve a day away,
many people with several days off of work,
families coming together for the first time in a long while,
special rituals, meals, gift-giving
and maybe even some quiet time,
hope seems palpable –
ready to bite into.
Just as in Micah’s day,
the bigger picture might not seem so hopeful at the moment,
but within that grainy image
there is a thumbnail vision
with a clear aura of hope around it.
There are always beacons of hope.
I think of the Bielski brothers
and the twelve-hundred elderly men and women,
and hundreds young children,
they helped survive the Jewish Holocaust in Poland.
With only about a hundred and fifty armed fighters,
the brothers found ways to live in the wilderness forest
of what is now Belarus,
for two years – which was long enough
to survive the Nazis.
In the end, in addition to those who lived
and died in freedom in the wilderness,
they saved more than twelve hundred fellow-Jews
from certain cremation in Auschwitz
and other extermination camps.
What made any of them have hope
they could make it into the wilderness,
let alone survive there, escaping Nazi pursuit
and creating sustainable community?
It should have seemed an impossible hope.
I think of a ninety-something year old grandmother I met,
who in 1980 witnessed several generations of her family
gunned down at the Sumpul River on the border
between Honduras and El Salvador.
Three to six-hundred unarmed refugees,
many children among them,
fleeing the Salvadoran civil war,
were murdered by government troops and militia.
Yet, in the new millennium,
she was an active participant in an agricultural
cooperative creating a new future,
and she was eloquent in her hopefulness
for the new generation that surrounded her.
I think about what happened in Bonn, Germany this fall,
after our current administration
opted out of the international emissions goals
set by the global community in Paris in 2015.
and 325 colleges and universities
formed an alternative national delegation to represent
the United States, and committed
to the Paris emission standards anyway.
All those states and organizations represent
fifty-percent of the U.S. economy and much of the pollution.
Biting into hope is a choice we make,
or refuse to make.
There is always, always, war
to witness. Always.
If we give them the last word –
if the lasting image in our brain
is of the horrendous
and the painful
and the dark –
we will dissolve into lives of meaninglessness.
Despair and cynicism
enervate the human soul.
They cut the throat of our vitality
and make our lives limp with irrelevancy.
We are unable to see ourselves
or anything we do
in the face of all that is stacked against us.
But hope is a choice
to bite into something different.
Hope is a choice
to resist the dark and painful forces we recognize
are everywhere in the world alongside of us.
Hope is a choice
to DO something,
and to keep DOING something
that creates the possibility of joy…not only sorrow;
of kindness…not only cruelty;
of light…not only darkness;
of healing…not only injury;
of opportunity…not only demise.
These are things we choose,
not because we make them up
in a fantasy world within our mind,
but because hope lives
as a parallel universe
right alongside all that shadows it.
If we write-off hope of as wishful thinking
then we will be cutting off
an entire universe of possibilities.
To do that is a severe
and cruel deprivation
to the fullness of human life.
My friends, hope is a choice
just as cynicism is a choice.
The message on the 4thSunday of Advent –
just like it is on Christmas day
and just like it is every day
in a Christian spiritual community, is: hope is a choice.
If we wish to be powerful in the world,
it is the choice we will continue to make.
It is not a choice that feels natural all the time.
Some days it is a choice that eludes us,
but the next day when we wake up
we have another choice to make.
Some days it is a hard and painful choice
to bite into hope
in spite of all we have known
or been through.
Other days it is a joy
and we can bite into that fruit
But ultimately, spiritually,
it doesn’t really matter
whether or not it feels good to make that choice,
it is the choice we need to make anyway.
So, standing here a day away from Christmas Eve
and doing everything we can to keep-in-waiting
as is our Advent discipline,
let’s remind ourselves
that hope is a choice,
and that it is a core element of our spiritual practice
to make that choice…
to bite into hope.