Letting Go to Take Hold: An Advent Reflection on Hope

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.”

– Emily Dickinson

Advent is a season when we lean into hope. We look to the coming of Christ as a promise that a better world waits for us even as we wait for it. In Jesus, we find hope that love will have the final word. We dream of a world where swords are transformed into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. A world without conflict and division, where no one learns war anymore.

But Advent is also tricky because we anticipate and find hope in the birth of a savior who was already born millennia ago, already died and rose again and ascended. And yet here are, in a world still broken, still wrecked and wrecking, waiting to see our hope realized in some unimaginable future.

Our faith dares us, in this season and always, to believe that a better world, a better way, is possible. And we are called to recognize that taking hold of hope, moving toward that better world, requires that we relinquish our white knuckle grasp on the broken ways of this world. After all, we cannot take hold of plowshares and pruning hooks if our hands are still full of swords and spears.

If hope is the thing with feathers that perches in our souls, perhaps it also lifts us up, above the hopeless messiness of this world, so can we catch a glimpse of the world made new, and then get to work.

Art installation for our NEXT Church National Gathering at Fourth Church, in Chicago in 2015. This bird is composed of the prayers of confession offered at the precise time when the PCUSA officially and fully embraced a more inclusive definition of marriage. Credit to Shawna Bowman for this piece and to Fourth Church in Chicago for the photo.