Christmas Message
December 2014

The Birth of Hope
The Rev. Peter J. Miano


In 1927 a U.S. submarine sank off the coast of Cape Cod. Heroic rescue and recovery efforts were undertaken. Divers established communication with the trapped sailors by tapping on the sub’s hull. The very first message sent by the trapped crew was tapped out in morse code, “Is there any hope?”

Life without hope is no life at all and certainly not the “abundant life” promised by Jesus (John 10:10). So, the question is no less imperative for us today than it was for those trapped sailors. Is there any hope? How we answer this question is a telltale indicator of our spiritual health.

When I was in college, I took a course in the philosophy of religion. My professor assigned me the task of asking card carrying religious people how the world would be different if there were no God. In other words, what difference does God make? My first interview was with an ordained minister who had been my high school youth minister. Without even a moment’s hesitation, his answer was, “If there were no God, there would be no hope.” Many years later, my youth minister’s answer is still satisfying. If there were no God, there would be no hope.

Current events conspire to persuade some that we live in a world without hope—too often a world marked by loss and sorrow, injustice and political oppression. As memories of the carefree days of summer recede and winter’s frosty grip tightens, in our annual approach to the celelbration of the birth of Jesus, we would do well to take that question seriously ourselves. Is there any hope?

This Advent season, many are unemployed or under employed and struggle to make ends meet. For them, seasonal joy might be a bit harder to come by. Hopelessness characterizes many who struggle with depression and live in a perpetual wintertime of seemingly endless, emotional emptiness. Frivolity, for them, is hard to imagine, let alone experience. Many are facing the cold, nighttime of their lives alone. For them, the bright morning sunshine of life is a distant memory and the long evening shadows in the gathering dusk of December is a reflection of a sense of desperation and uncertainty about the future. This season of Advent, filled with so much fun in anticipation of one of our most sacred holidays, can actually aggravate or accentuate feelings of despair. When personal circumstances inhibit feelings of seasonal joy, some can come to feel inadequate or even guilty. It is not such a simple question after all and far more compelling than at first it might sound. Is there any hope?

The season of Advent is certainly one of the most colorful, sentimental and picturesque seasons in the Christian calendar. Its charm and its promise are truly infectious. As for the sentimentality, the spontaneity and the emotional glow of the season, I am all for them. And I am all for the seasonal expressions of peace, love and joy, too, even if they are too often automatic and fleeting. Imagine the descent into the heart of winter without them! Imagine the prospect of facing life’s challenges without reminders of the presence of God.

Who doesn’t want to give in to the sentimental pleasures and spontaneous joys of the season? And what would be wrong, if for a moment we allow ourselves to imagine a world of diminished hostility and even dare to imagine a world marked by justice and harmony among people? But even if we find ourselves in fortunate life circumstances, free from illness, surrounded by friends and family, enjoying relative prosperity, no one can escape the monotonous, suffocating headlines announced over and over again through the dubious miracle of cable news networks: ISIS, Ferguson, Staten Island, governmental hypocrisy, the infantile blaming and droning, fatuous commentary that pass for political discourse in our country. Whose Advent festivities are not a little tempered by the intrusion of daily realities, minor annoyances and major life challenges? What excuse do we have to cling to hope during life’s challenges? Is there any hope?

I’ve long thought that one of the unsung benefits of ordained ministry is that after presiding at the funerals of the old and the young and visiting the bedsides of the terminally ill, the fact of finitude is ingrained in us at an early age. It is impossible to deny the realities of the human experience and no pastor can avoid the requirement to interpret these in light of the biblical narratives and the biblical faith. Not that this is easy or always enjoyable. Often it is neither. The biblical narratives reflect the human experience in all its dimensions and there is no simplistic pie in the sky sentiment in the Bible. A sturdy, grounded biblical faith never seeks to escape from either difficult texts or trying life experiences. Rather, faith, the condition of being gripped by God, is the fortification to meet them.

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Whose Advent festivities are not a little tempered by the intrusion of daily realities, minor annoyances and major life challenges? What excuse do we have to cling to hope during life’s challenges? Is there any hope?

A sturdy, grounded biblical faith never seeks to escape from either difficult texts or trying life experiences. Rather, faith, the condition of being gripped by God, is the fortification to meet them.