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 captures the depth and breadth of this fascinating emotion in this classic poem. In her assessment, hope is hard and steady, as she says: “sweetest in the gale…” Storms are not the place for mere optimism.
To hope with biblical hope, to stand with the prophets of old speaking truth to power, weeping over lack of justice and corruption in the land, extolling ordinary people to be extraordinary citizens of the kingdom – the challenges of difficult times call us beyond positive thinking. Biblical hope moves with a depth of emotion that appraises the world with stark realism and in the face of difficult circumstances knows that the last word is not yet spoken.
So it is not a passive stance that simply wishes current circumstances would improve. Biblical hope rises with initiative and moves to offer alternatives to the present and new perspectives on current problems. It takes an active voice and positive role in shaping new realities so that justice need not be a dream or peace feel distant and unknowable.
The prophets saw in Israel a hope for humanity, God’s dream offered in new ways with fresh possibilities of unshackled blessings and widened community. Enfleshed in Jesus, that hope of old breathed new life into a disillusioned past just as it now can enliven the embers of a darkened present.
Biblical hope, this grand word we claim in Advent’s first week necessitates a response. Like its other three partners in the Advent progression – peace, love and joy – hope calls out from us not only what can be, but what should be. It summons love into the equation of sacred interaction, it invokes peace as the partner confronting all that is and is to be, it stands with justice, entices joy, enhances vision, strengthens commitment, enlivens passion, broadens fortitude, deepens courage.
So the hope of Advent offers change to circumstances otherwise mired in complexity, derailed by ignorance or stymied by anger. This biblical hope, this hope that Jesus brings through word, deed and transformation allows the insufficiencies of my life and your life to be joined in a broadened force of glad assurance: we are not alone; we are not without. For there is hope – and it: “Perches in the soul, And sings the tune–without the words, And never stops at all.”
May if be so for you during this Advent season.