Saturday, December 14, 2013

2013/12/15 - Hoping beyond hope

We use a lot of words in Catholicism which – well – don’t really mean that much to us because they’re not part of our everyday language.  Today we’ve got the intersection of two of those words – ‘Advent’ and ‘Gaudete Sunday’.  The word Advent, as you probably remember from grade school, means ‘coming’ – specifically ‘the coming of something or someone important’.  ‘Gaudete’ means ‘rejoice’… so if you put it together, today we’re supposed to ‘rejoice because something big is about to happen’!!
Isaiah’s prophecy in that first reading is supposed to give us a better feel for what Advent and Gaudete mean…with imagery like the ‘Steppe flowering’ and the ‘desert blooming’.  I don’t know about you, but I only have a vague idea what a ‘Steppe’ is – and I don’t live in a desert, so this imagery doesn’t really speak to me.  So let’s look at some different images.
It’s hard to remember our fields and gardens just a couple of months ago – full of leaves and green grass – and vegetables and fruit being harvested by the bushel.   Now that the fields are covered in ice and even our hotbeds in the garden are struggling in the cold – it would be hard to imagine ANYthing green growing from that rock-hard soil.  But we KNOW it will.
Similarly, now that the sun is at its lowest, it’s hard to imagine being able to walk outside in shorts – or stay out working in the yard until 9 or 10 at night.  It’s hard to imagine the warmth and light returning to brighten our days and our spirits – but we know it will.
Isaiah’s prophecy – in fact, the whole theme of today’s liturgy is Hope.  He’s saying even the impossible – like blooming in the desert – even  THAT will be possible with God.  When things seem at their worst and most hopeless, Hope still remains…. And THAT is cause enough to Rejoice! 
We can apply this to so many areas in our own lives… I have a couple of examples.
Remember LAST summer?  The summer of 2012?  In case you forgot, we had a pretty bad drought.  It was sad to see the yards dry up – the fields wither – the trees dropping their leaves - and the gardens turning brown.  It felt pretty hopeless – especially when the rain would get ALMOST here then suddenly dissipate or go around us.  Yet every time it happened, what did we do???  We would all look at the 10 day forecast to see ‘when is that next chance of rain coming’.  It got to the point that it was hard to imagine that it would EVER rain again… but we knew it would.  We knew that God would provide in his own time.  We dared to hope even when hope was lost.
You know – I hate drought about as much as I hate anything…..  I can’t imagine why God would allow such widespread death of His beautiful creation – not to mention the suffering it causes for His people.   But  - THIS summer, I realized that the drought was apparently the best thing that could happen to my orchard.  Normally, the bugs are so bad that I don’t get any peaches – and the apples all drop in June.  This summer – the year after a drought – we had a bumper crop!  Honestly, last year I was about ready to just cut down my orchard because they hadn’t borne anything worthwhile in like 7 years.  I couldn’t imagine that I’d ever see a bumper crop again… but it came.  I didn’t cut those trees down because I dared to hope even when hope was lost.
On a more serious note, THIS summer I experienced something that gave me a new appreciation for hopelessness.  My Mom went into the hospital and frankly, we didn’t think she was going to make it.  Seemed like thing kept going from bad to worse – and the family prepared for the worst.  I remember one weekend in particular that I had my bags packed, because I was sure I would be called to the hospital at any moment to be with my family as we said goodbye to the person we love the most.  I remember that weekend, the hole in my gut and my heart.  It was a hopelessness I had not felt before.  But, that same weekend, I actually had a dream that Mom walked to her car at the hospital so she could leave.  It was a dream – nothing more – so far beyond reality, in fact, that I never dreamed that would ever happen – but by the Grace of God – it happened.  After three months of rehab, Mom went home and we’ve been able to enjoy and appreciate her presence even more.  Thanksgiving had a whole new meaning for our family this year.
I can remember during those three months that I would pray to God for a miracle, but I didn’t really believe it would happen.
The lesson I learned – which is the lesson from our readings today –
When all hope seems lost, Hope will still spring up.  It is ingrained into us as Christians… WE ARE A PEOPLE OF HOPE!!!  When one rainstorm passes, we’ll always look to the next chance of rain.  When someone we love falls ill, we always have hope that God will heal them.  I’m not naïve enough to think that we won’t experience another drought – nor am I naïve enough to think that Mom’s health will last.  But I hope we’re all wise enough to recognize that God was present thru all of it.  The drought seemed hopeless, but God used it to bring a bumper crop this year.  Mom’s health seemed hopeless, but God used it to help US appreciate her even more while we’ve still got her and not take her for granted.  God doesn’t PREVENT suffering – but he prevents our suffering from being the worst it could be.  No matter how hopeless things seem, there is always cause for Hope.
We could apply that to our parish cluster…in fact our whole Catholic Church… as we are forced to face the reality of less priests.  Yeah – it sometimes feels hopeless – as we try to find the best way to reduce our number of Masses.  But even in this seemingly hopeless situation, we can be assured that God WILL act through this to bring us Joy.  Perhaps we’ll take our parishes less for granted?!  Perhaps God will use our situation to break some of the ways we’ve always done things so that our Liturgies are more alive than ever!!!?  He could use this to bring a bumper crop of people to know Him even better!
It’s hard to imagine – but we KNOW it could happen.  So - Rejoice – something BIG is about to happen!  We are people of hope… we dare to hope even when hope seems lost.

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