An advent reflection by Luke Williams, Interim Director: World Relief Seattle Advent is a season of anticipation, waiting, expectation, and most of all, hope. This Advent hope excites me, but it also challenges my way of being. This year, my wife and I have been reading Advent reflections by Mary Lou Redding, and she expresses this idea well:
The hope of Advent is not like the hope we associate with Christmas gifts or lists. We often use the word hope as if hope were a fragile thing. We say, “I hope you can come with us.” And someone answers, “I hope so too, but it doesn’t look promising.” Hope in such contexts is little more than a wish. It is a vague, anemic desire with no teeth in it and little chance of becoming reality. The hope we read about in the Bible is much more robust. The people of the Bible reveal a hope worth risking for; hope that pulls people from the present into the future… Biblical hope is a powerful force for change.
Specifically, in this season we hope for the coming of a particular person who will transform our lives and all of history. But, this Coming King always bucks our expectations. Let’s be honest—we don't always appreciate this. Hope suggests trust, and sometimes when life is confusing and when God seems to be acting in very strange ways, trusting is hard. At the hardest times, all we can do is ask for the grace to cling stubbornly to the conviction that, "God is good—all the time." I wonder if Hannah felt this way. She longed to have a child, but year after year she would weep before the Lord because of her barrenness and the humiliation she suffered at the hand of her husband's other wife. What made her turn to the Lord over and over again, the same who had "closed her womb"? Where did she find the strength—and the audacity—to cling to Yahweh until he blessed her, refusing to let go, refusing to give up hope? I have been asking my staff to cultivate the practice of hoping, to put into words those things we hope for World Relief Seattle and to seek to discern what God’s hopes are for us and for the refugees we serve. I think it is important to name and pray for these things—even for wild hopes. Whether the thing we hope for seems quite doable (a soccer club for refugees) or far beyond our capacity (comprehensive immigration reform), Hannah’s story reminds us that our part is simply to hope and ask. Hannah couples hope with humility. We have an active part to play in God’s good plans, but we are powerless on our own to bring them to pass. “It is not by strength that one prevails.” (1 Samuel 2:9) On the one hand, we refuse to wait passively, recognizing the imperatives to pray, prepare and invite others to join us in pursuit of big hopes. On the other hand, we know that we have limited abilities, resources and vision. So, we keep coming to God—who is not limited—with open hands, asking for God’s interventions, God’s will and God’s timing. Here is the question: Are we willing to keep hoping? Will we, like Hannah, ask and ask again, never watering down our hope? I Samuel chapter 2 records Hannah’s song after the Lord answers her prayer. It is a passage fertile with hope for the downtrodden. Her prayer gives us images and promises to pray on behalf of refugees we have come to know and love here in our community, as well as for the millions of others around the world like them:
“The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with strength.”
“…those who were hungry are hungry no more.”
“The wicked will be silenced…”
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
Lord, teach us to hope like Hannah—fiercely, without pretense; to hope in Emanuel, God with us. Reflect and Pray with us during this Advent season: