1 Christmas, Year B, 2020

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Anne Sexton

blessed snow,
comes out of the sky
like bleached flies.
The ground is no longer naked.
The ground has on its clothes.
The trees poke out of sheets
and each branch wears the sock of God.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
I bite it.
Someone once said:
Don’t bite till you know
if it’s bread or stone.
What I bite is all bread,
rising, yeasty as a cloud.

There is hope.
There is hope everywhere.
Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.

This is not really a sermon,
more of a prolonged Christmas greetings
in lieu of a sermon.

Anne Sexton’s poem ends:
”There is hope everywhere. Today God gives milk
and I have the pail.”
That’s quite an image for the end of December
as we teeter on the precipice
of a worsening pandemic, a crumbling economy,
and a political free-for-all.
But hope there is,
and hope is indeed the mother’s milk of the holy.

This is a hard time to be hopeful
for many people
so I don’t want to deny the very real struggles
many of us are having this Christmas season.
I can hear it in voices everywhere,
sometimes even when people are trying
really hard to steal themselves
against sadness,
sorrow, or depression.
Christmas isn’t a magic pill or silver bullet
that neatly wipes away every tear.
So let’s just name it
and recognize the struggle.

Now some people are like cats –
you know, like the way you can drop a cat
and it will always, always land on its feet.
Dogs and humans not so much.

When we fall
we do an ungainly sprawl
like Jerry Lewis,
maybe roll a few times too.

But there are some folks who are able
to move through this very tough time
like a knife through butter.
However they may actually feel inside,
and likely it is a rumble like everyone else,
they are just graceful with how they navigate
this social isolation,
hazardous health crisis,
and dangerous social matrix.

But in either case –
fluid or drooping –
hope is not the cause nor the palliative.
Hope is a whole different category.

Hope is not wishful thinking.
Wishful thinking is what we do
when have a specific outcome in mind.

In which case, it is usually an outcome
favorable to ourselves,
that we then imagine is what should
and will happen.

Authentic hope,
as compared with wishful thinking,
is less outcome-focused
because with all things that truly matter,
we do not really get to know the outcome
ahead of time.

Wishful thinking is a way of comforting ourselves
when we realize we have no control.
We pull the wool down over our eyes
and feel warm and safe
believing in a happy wish.

But hope is very different.
Hope is an act of faith.
Hope is a trust-fall into the arms of God.
Hope does not require denial or complacency
and invites our best efforts to shape the future.
Hope enters the struggle to change
the things that can be changed,
and does not resist acceptance

of what cannot be changed.
In all of it, hope is the thing
that surrounds and imbues us
so that we can keep moving through it –
so that we do not give into cynicism
or resign ourselves to complacency
or drown ourselves
in the abuse of mind-altering substances
or the horrendous misuse of people and money.

Hope is neither physical, emotional,
or mental. Rather, it is
a spiritual lens
through which we choose
to see.

When we see what is going on
through the lens of hope
then we can keep going,
keep doing,
keep reaching out and trying.
It is a spiritual super power for mortals.

So, this Christmas and moving into a new year,
I not only “wish” you hope,
I invite you to put on that lens –
AND in community that is connected
even without touch –
to keep on moving on, moving on.

That is my belated Christmas present to you:
An invitation to put on the lens of hope
and understand the acute difference
between authentic hope and wishful thinking.

May this come in handy for you
in the days and weeks ahead.
And…may the peace of God flood your days.