Advent Meditation: Hope Anyway …

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
— Malachi 3:1–3

The prophet Malachi appeared at a time of discouragement for the chosen people. They had survived the exile under the Babylonians and were back in their homeland. In what should have been a time of gratitude and renewed fidelity to God’s law, Malachi saw the old patterns beginning again, the attitudes that had gotten the people in trouble in the past. The same old injustices, abuses, and indifference were creeping back into the culture …

There are times when we get tired of it all. There have been too many attempts with no results. We’re in a rut. Nothing changes. We’ve failed again. We’re ready to join in with the disparagement and cynicism. The prophets all seem to say that no matter how things look on the outside, God is doing something. Somehow, by dealing with our struggles and crises, we will become stronger. The darker things get, the brighter the hope. The Lord will suddenly come to the temple.

I had a friend who opened a restaurant. It’s a tough thing to do in any economic climate. She had studied and become a chef. The first year was hard. So much time had to be put into administrative work. She had to deal with both expected and unexpected problems. She had to deal with the cruel side of business, learning the hard way who was on her side and who wasn’t. Nothing came easy. She questioned again and again why she had even gotten into this. In the end she lost the restaurant. That’s an ordinary occurrence. But on another level, it was a test of hope. She lost a business; she didn’t lose herself. She kept learning. She kept remembering the creative vision she began with. A failed venture became a step on a bigger journey. It deepened her understanding of herself and her priorities. It prepared her for new dreams, and the next open door. She kept hoping.
— Mark A. Villano from Time to Get Ready

 

In The Midst Of Our Dark World

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.
— Isaiah 11:1-2a

Our salvation comes from something small, tender, and vulnerable, something hardly noticeable. God, who is the Creator of the Universe, comes to us in smallness, weakness, and hiddenness.

I find this a hopeful message. Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power; but over and over again I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them and made blind to the “shoot that shall sprout from the stump.”

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.

The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown young man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises. But the promise is hidden in the shoot that sprouts from the stump, a shoot that hardly anyone notices.
— Henri Nouwen from Gracias: A Latin American Journal

 

Prayer

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
― Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude

 

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