A Dominican Friar (priest) reflects that God is the center of our hope.
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 2 Peter 3: 8-15 Mark 1: 1-8
I think all of us have watched a child scoot or crawl along the floor to reach an object that is attracting his or her attention. If it is safe, we may encourage the child with cheers and move the object closer so it can be grasped. If it is unsafe, we may move the child away or place the object out of reach. Every year at this time, parents with scooting or crawling children have to decide whether to put a Christmas tree, with all its bright lights and ornaments, on the floor or put it up high and out of reach.
Whether we know it or not, every time we move toward and reach out for someone or something, we are practicing the virtue of hope. Hope is an essential part of who we are as human beings. It is hope that enables us to keep on crawling, to survive, and to conquer the tough times we encounter during our lives.
In our first reading today from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, the prophet is speaking to his community who is in captivity in Babylon. Their captivity has taken the Israelites from their land. It has taken away their hope. It is the loss of their hope which has reduced the community to shambles. But the prophet gives the people a message of hope. He promises them freedom from their captivity and all their hardships when the Kingdoms of Judah and Jerusalem are restored.
When the Isaiah speaks, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord!” “Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!” We believe that the voice is coming from the prophet. But is it really? Isn’t it us who are crying out that we believe in a God who gets us through our cancer treatment, who stretches our social security checks to cover expenses, who supports us when there are family arguments, who gets us home safely during a Minnesota snow storm, and who, no matter what happens to us in this life, has invited us to eternal life.
I think that John the Baptist is an example of hope at work. Exhausted with the search for worldly hope, John understands that human beings will only know true hope when we find that God is the center of our hope. “One mightier than I is coming after me.” “I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” I have baptized you with water but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
There is a phrase tucked away in the Second Letter of Peter that provides the basis for our hope. “But, according to God’s promise, we await new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” In other words, God’s promise is blessed assurance that what we hope for will be received.
So Advent is not about hoping in God. Advent is about giving birth to blessed assurance in God’s promises. There are no boundaries to blessed assurance, because there are no boundaries to God. God keeps pushing back the boundaries we try to set when we just want to have only reasonable hope in this world. God tries and tries to assure us that our suffering and our dying will bring us to new life in the world to come.
In 1837, Mrs. Phoebe Knapp sat at a piano and played an unknown melody for a blind woman named Fanny J. Crosby. Fanny had become blind at the age of six weeks from a medical mistreatment of her eyes. Fanny use to say that although her blindness had kept her from crawling and learning like other children, had it not been for her blindness she would not have such a good memory. She knew a great many parts of the Bible by heart. She had committed to memory the first four books of the Old Testament. She had memorized the four Gospels before she was ten years old. As a blind person, this had given her reasonable hope that she could get through life.
But when Mrs. Knapp asked, “What does the melody I just played say to you?” Fanny responded immediately, “Why, it says: ‘Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine.” She then went on to instantly create the words for the first verse. It is believed that using different pen names, Fanny wrote more than 8,000 hymns before she died at the age of 95.
The Prophet Isaiah, the writer of the Second Letter of Peter, John the Baptist, and all of us, begin our lives scooting and crawling with reasonable hope. As we encounter and face the struggle of life, God encourages and supports us so that our hope becomes blessed assurance.
At the age of 8, Fanny Crosby’s reasonable hope became blessed assurance with God’s encouragement and support.
Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
contented I will be.
How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t.
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!