News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
Back in the day when I was helping produce a traditional paper newsletter, I had a book of cartoons to use as fillers. One cartoon was of a couple leaving worship, passing by a message board that had the word “Hope” on it. The husband looked upset. When his wife asked what was wrong, he said, “I thought Bob was going to be here!”
It has been over 17 years since Bob Hope passed at the age of 100. An entire generation is beginning to graduate from high school that has no direct experience of him, and the traveling variety shows that he put on for the troops in various locations, especially during the holidays. Those shows brought a bit of home and hope to those serving our country.
Hope is a focus of the Advent and Christmas season. The traditional designation of the Advent candles is hope, love, joy, and peace. Perhaps many of our congregations have already focused on hope, as Advent began on November 28, which is the next-to-earliest date the season can start.
Perhaps it is appropriate that we begin the season with hope, as the circumstances of the past 21 months has certainly been a trying time that renders hope in short supply. We have gone through several surges in the COVID pandemic, in the summer of 2020, after the holidays in January-February of this year, and the Delta variant surge this past July-August. As we celebrate the holidays this year, it is with the news of another variant – Omicron – spreading throughout the world. Will another surge happen after the holidays this year?
Our hope is that we will finally get on top of this virus and be able to move beyond it to return our lives to more of our usual routine, including revitalizing the ministries and mission of our congregations. Many of our congregations have been holding at least hybrid worship services (in-person and online), and have been doing as many other activities as is deemed safe. But it is with the cloud of the pandemic still hovering over us, sapping the strength of many, especially the long-haulers, and claiming the lives of over 5.2 million people worldwide. In the United States, we are about to pass the 800,000 mark in deaths.
As we continue to face this challenge at the beginning of Advent, let us recall these words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Note how three of the four Advent candle words appear in these verses. We have this faith, love, and hope because of what Advent points towards: the coming of Jesus into this world, the Word becoming flesh to dwell among us, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Hope does not disappoint us. The word became flesh; thus, Jesus experienced life as we do, full of its joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies. Because he triumphed over life and death, we can share in that victory. As Paul would later proclaim to the Romans, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:37-39). Our hope is secure because of what was first set in motion and came to pass at Christmas. As we mark Advent 2021, it is with the hope that Jesus who came at Christmas to open the way of salvation will surely make a second Advent to conclude that work.
May 2022 be a year filled with hope! May we continue to be about the task of sharing the reason for the hope we have with all whom we meet, and may the coming New Year be a time of rejoicing in this hope. May that hope give us endurance to overcome the remnant of 2019 still with us as 2022 dawns. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams