Thanksgiving fades into the background. We are home again from precious time away with family. After a three-day break from the news, we are back into the regular routine with news reports flooding back into our consciousness with jarring, even depressing, insistence. There are reports of terrorism and shootings; storms and global warming-induced weather changes blanket the present and haunt our collective future; war still rages around the world; racism and gender bias still blight our cities; impeachment hearings ooze out of Washington.
Optimism is hard to come by.
Worship on the First Sunday in Advent closed with an Advent hymn (carol) I dearly love, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” It is the closing lines of the first verse which move me this day: “Hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.” (“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” No. 196, The United Methodist Hymnal)
The phrases evoke both a powerful longing and a deep expectation. They are a heartfelt response to the opening lines of this great hymn. He, Jesus, is the hope of all the earth, whether we acknowledge this truth or not. Jesus is the dear desire of every nation, regardless of the machinations and maneuvering of human rulers, legislators and power brokers. He is, ultimately, the joy of every longing heart, no matter how much we may pursue the idol of materialism.
Alister McGrath in The Landscape of Faith writes:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus. He is our hope, desire, and joy. Our Advent hope lies not in human accomplishment, willful aspirations (however good) or ultimately in the reordering of our political world (regardless of one’s party or national affiliation). Our Advent hope beacons us to follow His star to a Bethlehem stable. May it be so for us in this Advent time of preparation for Christ’s coming.
“One of the most powerful themes affirmed by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings is the reality of the Christian hope in the midst of despair and seeming helplessness. We see this especially in a narrative passage which is found towards the end of The Lord of the Rings, at a moment when the victory of the forces of darkness seem assured.
‘There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.’
Tolkien’s subtle reworking of the imagery of the “star of Bethlehem’ affirms the resilience of hope in God in the face of a darkening world of fading human dreams.” (The Landscape of Faith by Alister McGrath, Page 235; Interior quote, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966, p. 199)