A WORD FROM OUR PASTORAL INTERN, JULIE GAINES:
I’ve been asking myself this question for the last month as we’ve journeyed through the season of Advent together. Each week in worship, we learned a new way of speaking and expressing hope through the different languages of our brothers and sisters from Burma. We watched as our sanctuary gradually grew brighter with each candle that we lit in the Advent wreath. We sang hymns and read scripture passages that spoke to hope’s presence in the midst of a fiery furnace and a valley of dry, brittle bones. We watched as our children led us in discovering that hope “is like a candle burning bright…a love song…a flower in the snow.” We listened yesterday as our choirs shared songs about the hope that Christ’s coming to earth will bring. We have spent the entire season focused on hope…
…but do you know what hope looks like?
I found myself wondering if I could answer that question with a resounding “Yes!” and at the beginning of the season, I couldn’t. Hope is a word we hear daily. We say we hope for a lot of things: for our team to win the big game, for nice weather, for good news to be true, for freedom from frustrating and difficult tasks, for our loved ones to be safe, for order in chaotic situations. We can hope as a defense, as a form of prevention, born out of fear, mistrust, and anxiety. We can use the word “hope” interchangeably with the words “want” or “would like.”
Is this the “hope” that we refer to when we speak of God’s coming to dwell among us? Over the last four weeks, we have spent time together decorating, cooking, preparing, feeding, making music, giving gifts, and celebrating the coming of Christ into our chaotic and difficult lives. We filled the fellowship hall and sanctuary with dancing, laughter, smiles, food, and worship. Our youth and Northside small group met last Wednesday night to fellowship and share in the joy Christ is bringing to our lives. Our sanctuary choir shared the good news through singing and the gift of music last week in Williamsburg and in our sanctuary with instrumentalists, the Meadow Street Band, and the Richmond Concert Band. Yesterday, choirs from our church sang, played, and led us in worship using the universal language of music, a language that crosses all barriers like Christ’s love. We have met in homes to share meals and stories with one another. Saturday, we gathered for our food basket ministry and shared love through the gift of meals with our neighbors. Whether we realized it at the time or not, our actions were pointing to a greater story than our difficulties and our shortcomings. God has been actively at work through all of these acts of worship and many more during our Advent season, creating and providing the space for us to experience the love, peace, joy, and-yes-hope that God desires for us to experience daily throughout our journeys.
I know this to be true because I experienced hope through these holy moments with you. I experienced God’s presence and hope through a conversation with one of our youth about his strong desire to serve God and to thank God for the many gifts in his life, a conversation that reminded me of my own calling and the calling that God has given each of us. My passion was renewed for listening for God’s still, small voice through listening to his. I experienced hope while dancing with people from all over the world in the fellowship hall during our Christmas celebration as I looked around and realized that I was seeing God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven. I experienced hope in listening to the laughter and delight of our neighbors in the sanctuary while it housed our Christmas in the Fan concert. I experienced hope in the giggles of some of our youth as I attempted to say “How are you?” and “Thank you!” in Jingpaw, the Kachin language, and in their grace as they corrected my pronunciation and asked me to try again.
God is actively creating something renewed and good among us as we gather, share, pray, give, and love one another in Christ’s name. My hope (see what I did there?) is that each of us will enter the final days of this season of preparation and waiting with eyes wide open and ears perked for the ways God is at work among us, and the ways God desires for each of us to experience hope in a deep, powerful, life-changing way, and that we’d carry what we’ve learned into Christmas, Epiphany, and the new year. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned hope looks like during this season. Come share a story with me sometime.
Peace (and joy, love, and hope!),