Advent Devotions: Hope

We begin our Advent journey with hope.

I’ll be honest with you, lately things have seemed a little hopeless to me. If we pay any sort of attention to the news or listen with any measure of compassion to the struggles of our family members and neighbors, if we are still and attend to the cries within our own souls…we begin to feel the weight of this world. Sometimes, it all feels like too much, like nothing we do will ever be enough to remedy any of this suffering. What Advent is teaching me is that, thankfully, Christ has already done enough.

As I’ve prepared to explore Advent and journey through this season of waiting and watching, I’ve had one song stuck in my head. Well, one line from one song stuck in my head: “A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices….”

Weary world indeed.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

—Psalm 130, NRSV

Psalm 130 is part of the Psalms of Ascent. These are songs that the Israelite pilgrims sang on their way to Jerusalem each year on their way to celebrate festivals and high holy days in their place of worship. The people sang Psalms 120-134 as they climbed the mountain, or perhaps as they climbed the steps to the temple in Jerusalem. Not only is Psalm 130 part of the Psalms of Ascent, it is also characterized as a Psalm of lament and a penitential song.

In this season we join Mary and Joseph on the road as they make their way to Bethlehem. Mary is swollen with the Christ child, and we join her as she waits, watches, and walks toward his impending arrival. We move toward our own high holy day, Christmas. We are a pilgrim people.

Growing up, Advent was a season filled with wonder and expectation. Every morning from December 1-24, I was allowed to have chocolate as soon as I woke up. When I got home from school in the afternoon, I stopped and examined my chocolate Advent calendar again. I ran my hands across all the open flaps, empty of their treats, and I counted—again—the days left until Christmas. Baby Jesus was coming, and so were my presents.

One of the beautiful things about the Christian calendar is that each season comes around again and again, year after year. As we move through our lives we are invited to understand new and fresh things each time we make a trip around the sun. As I began preparing this Advent series, I realized a couple of things that I had somehow missed in all the previous years.

First, when we observe Advent, we aren’t just preparing our hearts for the Christ child on Christmas morning, we are also invited to prepare our hearts for the time when Christ will return. We look around and recognize the tension that Christ has come and brought with him the Kingdom of God, but at the same time we know that all is not well. There is still so much violence and loneliness and suffering of all kinds. We wait expectantly, hopefully for the time when Christ will return and all will be made new.

The second thing I learned is that Advent is similar to Lent. It is a time for us to repent of the ways we have grieved God with our disobedience, in the little and big ways we fail to follow faithfully every day. As we prepare room in our lives we might begin by admitting that we have too often filled our lives with the pursuit of power, comfort, and safety—and as a result contributed to the suffering of others—rather than follow the example of Jesus and die to ourselves as we serve and observe the image of God in each of our neighbors and ourselves.

Athanasius, Archbishop of Alexandria during Medieval times, wrote a letter on interpreting the Psalms. I came across a paraphrase of one of his main points and it goes like this: most of Scripture speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us.

What if this first week of Advent, this week of hope, we let Psalm 130 speak for us? What if we read and meditate on it so that it becomes our prayer?

It took me a little while to discover what Scripture I should explore during this Advent series. In that pursuit, I picked up a book I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. Peterson has done much for my faith through his translation of the Bible into The Message. These past few weeks, this fellow pilgrim has offered me new insight and understanding of the Psalms through his book. Peterson translates Psalm 130 at the opening of chapter 12, then, toward the close of it, says,

Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and conclusions…And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time.” (p. 144)

So, I invite you to hope and pray with me during this first week of Advent…

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplication!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

As we wait, may we watch. And as we watch, may we see the light of Christ as he came all those years ago, as he is loving and working now, and as he will come again and make all things new.

Liz Andrasi Deere is a Texan living in Charlottesville, Virginia with her husband and puppy. She loves food, trees, travel, and practicing hospitality—both offering and receiving it. Liz graduated from Truett Seminary with her Master of Divinity and is a freelance writer and editor. She shares some of her writing each week on her blog Lamplight Stories.

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