Waiting in Hope
As we enter Advent this Sunday, I think of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend, Eberhard, in 1943 from his prison cell: “Life in a prison cell may well be compared to Advent; one waits, hopes, does this that or the other things that are really of no consequence— the door is shut and can only be opened from the outside.” That might seem to be a strange way for me to open Advent, especially considering our Advent sermon series will be on hope. However, Bonhoeffer reminds us that hope is not about reasonable expectations or things that we can accomplish on our own. As Chansin observed, “It’s not like my kids hoping to have dinner.” Their dinner will come. Real hope, which involves our desire and expectations of a preferred future, lies mostly outside our ability to produce that future.
However, in the same letter, Bonhoeffer also said, “We can, and should, celebrate Christmas despite the ruins around us.” This further reminds us that if Advent is like waiting for the prison door to be opened, we still need to anticipate and celebrate the coming of that day when the door will be opened. Currently we are waiting in this pandemic for the day we can gather safely with family and friends. We wait for a time when justice will come for all people of color in our nation. We wait for some sense of normalcy in our lives. But that is not all. Advent further reminds us that we wait for the door open to a world free of suffering, poverty, injustice, sickness and death.
The Bible is clear that we are not the only people who have had to wait in hope. Moses waited for the Promised Land, Jewish exiles in Babylon waited to return to Jerusalem and a rebuilt temple, and the people in Jesus’s day were part of a people who had already waited several hundred years for the coming Messiah. The biblical story, more importantly, also reveals that these things for which we wait will one day come. One day the great door will open and we will walk into a new world even better than we can imagine. Until then we wait...in the certain hope that God will do for us what we could never do for ourselves.