Worth Considering?


Increasingly, I have come to understand that stories are all we have and that human beings create meaning from the stories they construct. Contrary to popular perception, meaning is not something lying around waiting to be discovered. It’s only through the construction of stories, that we bring meaning and purpose to life.

Each one of us creates or constructs individual stories to explain our experience of the world. Together, as cultures, faith traditions, communities, and nations, we construct our collective stories- stories that tell us about our origins, who we presently are, and why we are here. Both as individuals and as communities our stories mold and shape our perceptions of self and the world. Our stories once brought to life, make claims upon us.

The demands of daily life distract us from an awareness of being shaped by the stories we tell. Gaining a little perspective on our stories allows the swirling snowstorm of ideas and feelings that like in a shaken snow globe, to settle. Gaining perspective allows us to perceive our lives viewed through the rearview mirror, revealing the hidden dissonances between the life actually lived and the stories we continue to tell ourselves about that life.

For instance, I am temperamentally a half glass full kind of guy -that all I can expect in life is that my glass will be half full is a story I have constructed to protect myself against the experience of disappointment. But when I look at my life in rearview mirror sight, I spot the variance between the pessimistic story I tell myself and actual life experience. I note that my actual experience has invariably been one of a glass filled and at times overflowing with the abundance of grace; an experience of life, filtered through my predominant half glass full story, obscures from me.

This is a reflection on the Christmas event and I guess many of you may be asking where is he going with all of this? Where I want to go with this is in the direction of identifying the Christmas event in terms of being a story that opens us to the invisible geography that invites new frontiers;[1] a story through which to glimpse the possibility of a deeper and richer experience in life.

Christmas is a historical story. God becomes known not through timeless mystery but in time and space – through the events of our communal and personal histories –  events remembered and recorded as story. There is always more than one way to tell a story. I can live my life under the influence of a story of life as a glass half full, or I can reframe this story to take account of my actual experience of abundant grace and gratuitous gift. This results in the emergence of a new story that redirects me towards beckoning new meaning into my life. We all have multiple stories from among which to make choices. Christmas is a story. Actually, Christmas is multiple stories.


Matthew places the birth of Jesus within the transgenerational epic of Israel’s history. Matthew’s Jesus is a new Moses – the long-awaited fulfillment of Israel’s longing. It’s to Joseph, as the direct descendant of David that the angel brings the good news. It is to the child messiah that the wise kings of the earth come to worship as an expansion of Israel’s story to now enfold them. It’s to Egypt that the Holy family must flee – an allusion to Israel’s flight into Egypt.

Luke’s story differently locates the birth of Jesus, placing it against the backdrop of a Roman-dominated world and specifically within the context of the imperial census. In Luke’s story, it is to a young woman Mary, an image of courage born of vulnerability, to whom the angel speaks. Luke’s Jesus is a universal savior, born in utter obscurity, witnessed not by kings but by illiterate peasant shepherds and field hands. Luke’s Jesus is born among the outcast and excluded of this world.

John’s story offers a further take on the birth of Jesus. There is no Joseph, no Mary, no wise men, and no shepherds or angels. In contrast, John constructs a narrative in which Jesus’ birth is reframed as a new Genesis event  – that harkens back to the very origins of the creation, itself.

John’s opening words are: In the beginning —–. In the beginning, when God created the heaven and earth, the Word already was. Logos, translated in English as Word, points to the action of God in creation. The Word is God in action – communicating outwards through the energies of light and love. This active aspect of the divine has now acted again and entered the heart of the creation in a human form. In the birth of Jesus, God self-reveals in the contours of a human face and in the unfolding events of a human life.

From his opening words, John quickly sketches out his plot line. God’s self-giving as the Word, has come into the world, but the world is not ready for this and fails to recognize what God is doing. The world may remain blind, yet for those who believe new and unforeseen possibilities open up for them.

Each Evangelist constructs a story that makes sense of Jesus birth in the context of their time and place. Each story encompasses the particular choices that can be made or refused – and the consequences for lives lived that flow from the exercise of positive or negative choices.

We choose our stories. The modern and post-modern mindset likes to know if something is true or not. We tend to treat the birth narratives in the Gospels as fairy stories, which for many of us places them in the not true category and consequently of no value to us. But the question – is this true or not true is the wrong question because it doesn’t get us to where we need to be in relation to such stories. The real questions are – what implications flow from believing or not believing? What happens to our experience in life if we either live as if these stories convey something meaningful to us, or reject them? Essentially, these are questions about choice. It’s a choice whether to find value or not these large faith stories.

The choice of story is always ours. The enchanted magical-realism of the Matthew and Luke stories of Jesus’ birth among angels, shepherds, and wise men may no longer speak to us as it once did in previous generations. Yet, buried in these stories lie the balance between safety verses risk in the way we live; courage and strength found in the tension between invulnerability or vulnerability; who do we consider in or out and are we insiders or outsiders?

In its cosmic expansiveness, John’s narrative might better speak to us in an age when science fiction functions for the post-modern imagination as once Matthew and Luke’s enchanted birth stories functioned for the pre-modern mindset. For me, John’s more cosmic and expansive reframing of the Creator’s entry into the heart of the creation fits better with my sci-fi – Quantum field influenced imagination. I could easily imagine the words of Johns prologue projected across an opening scene in a new Star Wars epic –

in the beginning, was the Word, the Word was with God  ….. the light shining in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it  ….. and Word became flesh and lived among us  …..and we have seen his glory …..God’s only son full of grace and truth.


We are not only victims of our own self-limiting life stories we are also vulnerable to some very pernicious cultural-collective stories that claim us in ways we may not always be comfortable with. Materialism is one of our pervasive cultural stories of our time and it makes us more and more anxious. We live out personal and social stories that promote the illusion that our pursuit of more and more things or a better more glossy experience will plug the emptiness inside us. Our drive for more and more success, more and more power, and more and more attractiveness delivers less and less of that for which our hearts yearn. Satiation is often the illusion we mistake for satisfaction.

I believe in the power of these gospel stories to change lives. I believe in these stories, not because I mistake them for literal descriptions of true events, but because to not believe in their message impoverishes and limits me. The question is how is my life enriched through allowing the priorities of these stories to shape my sense of self and the world around me?  Larger stories reframe our own self-limiting life story. Faith-based stories challenge our awareness of pernicious cultural stories that lay claim on us, competing for our primary allegiance. Good stories break the power of the illusion that we have no choice – as if there are no other stories to draw from or no other ways to reframe the stories we have -maybe such stories are worthy of our closer consideration?

May the stories we choose to live by – enlivening us to the invisible geography that invites us to new frontiers, breaking the dead shell of yesterdays, risking being disturbed and changed, giving us courage to live the lives we long to love, and to postpone no longer the life we came here to live and waste our hearts on fear no more.

(My paraphrasing of O’Donohue’s last stanzas from A Morning Offering.)


[1] Words taken from John O’Donohue’s poem A Morning Offering.

The World Is About to Turn

A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs for Advent III

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, John 1:6-8, 19-28

The first Christmas card Malcolm and I sent as parents was in the infancy of the now-common practice of sending custom photo cards pre-printed with greetings that you could choose from a menu of options: Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Greetings of the Season! etc. Our card displayed a snapshot of our first child, four months old and dressed in a pale green Winnie-the-Pooh onesie, grinning from ear to ear; that toothless smile just melting your heart. Nobody, but nobody could resist that face.

And from the menu of greetings, we chose a single word: Joy!

Of course, we did. The photo expressed a child’s joy as well as the great happiness she brought to all who had eagerly awaited her arrival.

But as I look back on that Christmas card and its jaunty scripted caption almost exactly 29 years later, I realize that the joy we felt at that time was just the beginning. The joy of new parenthood wasn’t just the delight our daughter (and five years later, her younger brother) brought us each day as she grew and developed. This joy was more–a sign of the inexorable movement of our identity as a couple transforming into something new. This creature from God was not just a happy short-term event accompanied by our adjustment to sleepless nights, diapers and projectile vomiting. This was a paradigm shift that turned our world around; affecting how we saw the future. We had become parents—a permanent identity change. The decisions we would make and the actions that we would take would now ripple forward in a way that they hadn’t before—into a new generation. This joy was much deeper than the moment, and it enfolded us (and still does) throughout the journey of raising first one, and then two, children.

This, then, is the kind of joy that rocks the world in ways we only understand dimly at first but, as we move with it into the future, we realize it is a joy that is inextricably woven with challenge, and with hope.

This is the joy symbolized by the pink candle on the Advent wreath, marking what the church calls Gaudete Sunday. We always think of Advent as a season of anticipation, but actually, Advent is also a season of penitence, and we observe it as a ‘little Lent’. And like Lent, whose fourth Sunday, Laetare Sunday, is a kind of joyful respite from the austere season in anticipation of the Resurrection, Gaudete Sunday with its pink candle, expectant lessons, and in some churches rose-colored vestments and hangings, serves to spike our awareness of the approaching Incarnation as we enter the final stretch of the season. Traditionally the liturgy includes an introit that begins with words from Philippians: “Gaudete” “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” The Gospel lesson for this day in the past has included Mary’s stirring Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…he has put down the mighty from their seats and exalted the humble and meek…” This is powerful joy. There is a beautiful musical adaptation of this in which Mary exultantly declares, “My heart cries out with a joyful shout…the world is about to turn.”* That phrase perfectly expresses the deep foundational joy that goes beyond platitude and enters the realm of the existential. This is joy that reaches the core of our identity.

And though today’s lessons are different from what the church has offered in other years, we still hear in them the overarching theme of a world about to turn.

Our passage from Isaiah may sound familiar: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me…he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed… to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners…” These are the verses that Jesus will read in Luke’s Gospel when he opens the scroll in the synagogue in Nazareth; an act that nearly gets him killed when he’s barely begun his ministry. Written early in the 6th century BCE as the exiles were returning from Babylon, Third Isaiah’s words reflect the optimism of those who recognize that they are in a whole new post-exile world; that God has done great things for them by bringing them home. Israel will be renewed and she will be a light to the nations. As in Mary’s Magnificat, this is an expression of renewed identity and purpose.

This is Joy springing from the ruins of the Temple: joy seeping through the broken places and watering the seeds of hope.

Isaiah makes a lot of Gospel appearances. It is most cited by the evangelists as foretelling the life and significance of Jesus as Messiah. John’s Gospel refers to the earlier, Second, Isaiah this time—very early in the narrative, as we just heard. A man named John says that he is “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord’”

Who is this man?

The interesting thing is that John is identified as who he is not. “He was not the Light.” He says, “I am not the Messiah.” Elijah? Nope. The prophet? Unh-uh. Even as compared to the other Gospel writers, who identify him as the Baptist or The Baptizer, the Evangelist here simply tells us that this is a man named John. That is all we really need to know.

He is who he is not and, as shadow brings out highlights in a picture, his function—his vocation—is to illumine the one who comes after him. He testifies—he is witness to the Light coming into the world; witness to hope; witness to the world about to turn.

So while at first blush this may not seem like an overtly joyous passage, it really is. This is whispered joy; the joy of a candle in the darkness; the light of healing in a wilderness of anxiety and pain.

And John’s news of the one whose sandals he was not fit to untie caused people to rethink the decisions they would make; the actions they would take. “Make straight the way of the Lord, ” he says. How would the baptism of this man John, and the one who came after, affect their identity as children of God? What would the world look like now that the promised Light was now among them? What would the future hold?

Whispered joy. Powerful joy. They didn’t know it at that time, but they were embarking on an unknown road into a new world— following the Light that was now somewhere among them. It did not mean that their troubles were over. The road ahead was rutted with challenge and difficulty. But hope beckoned them on—a joyful expectation of God’s promised Messiah.

As in first century Palestine, Emmanuel comes to us in a world in the wilderness. And accessing this thing called Joy is not always easy. For those who suffer; for the vulnerable, anxious, and fearful, to speak of joy without also speaking of hope is a mere platitude. Offering platitudes to someone in pain is like blowing dandelion fluff at them. You can’t offer joy effectively without also offering hope—the two are conjoined. And as Christians, we are all about hope: the seed that sprouts when it is buried in the darkness.

On Thursday evening at 5:30 we will have a service here that seeks to offer comfort to those who struggle to find hopeful joy in this season. Our third annual Blue Christmas liturgy is a quiet prayer service that is held each year on December 21, the winter solstice and the darkest day of the year. The important thing about the timing of this service is that this shortest day and longest night means that on the very next day the light will begin to return—the days will lengthen into summer, just as they always have, and will continue to do—and there’s not a thing we can do for good or ill that will stop it. Blue Christmas is a service perfectly timed to celebrate, quietly and contemplatively, the joy of a world always about to turn. Of a world into which God comes steadily, constantly, faithfully and inexorably; present with us in all of our suffering and brokenness.

I hope you will try and join us on Thursday. Even if you are at a place in your life where you are able to connect with the Joy of Gaudete, I’ll wager that has not always been the case. I’ll wager that you have learned something about hope and how you can walk with someone who suffers. Because I deeply, deeply believe, and I cannot say it enough—God does not give us suffering. God gives us each other. And that’s not dandelion fluff—it’s what we are called to as the Body of Christ.

On a cold morning a while ago a priest entered a church early, turned on the lights and went about the business of unlocking and getting ready for the day. He entered the sacristy and found a person sleeping there on the floor, peacefully bundled up in robes from the closet. Upon waking him, the priest found the young man groggy and disoriented—a lost soul carrying a load of God only knew what kind of troubles. When asked how he got in, he simply said, “I came to the door, and the light came on.”

In the cold light of day, this is a story about motion sensors and building security—I get that. But in the world of metaphor, this is eloquent. A troubled world is out there looking for a place to rest its head—a place to be enfolded and comforted and healed. It is a world seeking light— the light of joy conjoined with hope in a way that transforms all of us—those who struggle and those who walk the road with them. We are called to be that light, and in that may we Rejoice…again I say, Rejoice! Amen.

* Canticle of the Turning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXyGh1MW2OM


Re-membering Memory


The book of Isaiah falls into three sections, each with a different author who between them span some 230 years from the 720’s to the 5teens BCE. In the O.T. lesson for Advent Sunday we encountered the voice we now recognize as Trito or Third Isaiah, who in the around 515 BCE addresses the Jewish exiles recently returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. The O.T. lesson for the second Sunday in Advent moves further back in time to the period immediately preceding the fall of Babylon to the Persian armies around 550 BCE. In chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah, we hear the voice of Deutero of Second Isaiah, who prophesies new political shifts that will result in the ending of the period of Jewish captivity in Babylon. Whereas Third Isaiah addresses the returnees, Second Isaiah is still looking forward to their release and eventual return.

The words of Second Isaiah are known to many today who either reject or are in ignorance of the Christian faith because his words are memorialized in Charles Jennens’ libretto, which Frederick Handel set to music in his oratorio The Messiah. We cannot hear the words: 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

without Mr. Handel’s music resounding in our heads.


One of the aspects I sorely miss from 30 +years living in London is the ability to catch a thought-provoking play at the National Theatre at the South Bank, that wonderful complex of theatres, concert halls, museums and restaurants along the Thames at Waterloo – only a 20-minute tube ride away from where we lived in North Greenwich.

I was reminded of how much I miss the National when on Wednesday evening I experienced the Gamm Theatre’s very fine production of Nick Payne’s play, Incognito. Incognito means to conceal one’s identity. Payne explores the fragility of our sense of self and the way it fluctuates according to retention and loss of memory.Before the play begins a number of quotations are projected onto the blank backdrop of the stage, all of which highlight the fluid and somewhat fragile nature of something we take for granted as automatic, namely a continuous sense of self.

Identity is that sense of self that flows across time from one moment to the next. Am I at this moment the same person as I was yesterday and will be tomorrow? It’s an important question, which is obscured by our tendency to assume memory and identity as fixed givens. Like the division of time into past, present, and future, some would claim that this continuity of self is a necessary illusion, but an illusion nevertheless.

Our brains operate rather like pattern-mapping and matching machines. The machine analogy has it limits because human brains are like and yet, not like pattern matching computers. However, the ability to recognize experience in the present moment rests on the brain’s rapid matching of the current experience with a template of experience stored in memory. Occasionally, but less often than you might think, we are stumped by a truly new experience, completely unfamiliar. What we experience as unfamiliar results when a current experience can’t be quickly matched to memory.  Sometimes it takes a little longer to locate the right stack, section, and volume in the library that is the memory. Sometimes it’s not possible because a memory template is not there. The indigenous peoples of America first saw Europen ships by not seeing them because what their optic nerves recorded had no corresponding memory template.

Memory plays fast and loose with our linear conception of time. In one way, memory is the past. Yet, the past appears incognito as it were. Unseen- unknown, memory filters our perceptions of the present and shapes our expectations for the future. When memory fragments, what happens to our sense of self and with it, our linear conception of identity flowing across time? This is the subject of Payne’s play, Incognito.

As we live longer with an accompanying increase in the incidence of dementia, the fear that any one of us might find ourselves slipping into incognito or the pain of seeing a loved one increasingly lost to the experience of incognito, increases.


If all new experience is filtered through the templates stored in the memory, can anything really new ever happen? The answer is yes. Because the brain’s pattern-matching is not an exact computer-like repetitive process. In the human brain, the new is dawning all the time as a process fragmentation and recombination or re-membering. This process of fragmentation and recombination is what I mean by the hyphenated word re-membering – a rearranging of old memory elements into new configurations dictated by the needs of the present.

This fluidity in re-membering underpins human adaptability and our ability to successfully align with our environment. Memory fragmenting and recombining in the act of re-membering -into new configurations is happening imperceptibly – that is until that moment when we realize that something has shifted, that times have changed, that a new perspective opens up before us.


This is not only true for individuals it is also true for communities. Like individuals, communities form stable identities through the operation of the collective memory.

Mark opens his gospel with a skillful collective re-membering of collective memory. He begins his story of the good news of Jesus Christ with the figure of Elijah represented by John the Baptist. In the new figure of John the Baptist, collective memory is re-membered to evoke a familiarity with the image of Elijah as popular imagination pictured the forerunner of the Messiah.

Mark then draws from the words of Second Isaiah, though regrettably for him, without the internal accompaniment of Mr. Handel’s music.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

In associating this collective memory with Jesus, Mark creates the opening scene for something new in a re-membering of elements in Israel’s collective memory, which takes Israel’s story in a new direction.

Re-membering is not confined to the Judaeo-Christian practice of reworking tradition in new directions to meet the needs of the present time. Re-membering operates  at all levels of social-civic life. Both as individuals and as communities such as a nation, we are always in the process of re-membering- recombining-reworking elements in our individual and collective memory. The question to ask is for what purpose and what is the result?

I am sure that for those with ears to hear the process of fragmentation and re-membering offers us new ways to interpret collective forces at loose in our current political life.


Advent is a time of waiting. Advent’s waiting is not simply a literal waiting for a date on the calendar – December 25th. Advent’s waiting is a deep universal experience of tolerating frustration and weathering uncertainty. Advent’s waiting is also an invitation to risk having hope and  I refer you back to last weeks exploration of hope here. For waiting is underpinned by a process of fragmentation and re-membering so as to create the new.

But for this moment in time let me end with words from the Irish poet and mystic John O’ Donohue from his poem A Morning Offering:

May my mind come alive this day

to the invisible geography

that invites me to new frontiers,

to break the dead shell of yesterdays,

to risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today

to live the life that I would love.

To postpone my dream no longer,

but do at last what I came here for

and waste my heart on fear no more.

The object of hope, that is longing for a future better than what we already have. Hope is underpinned not so much by what we remember from past memory, but how we re-member the past in the present.

Is re-membering a slipping backward- into the dead shell of yesterdays? Or is our re-membering the opening of a way forward?- Let’s re-member so as to postpone the dream no longer and waste our heart on fear no more.


Hope Is A Seed

Advent hope

The Old Testament lesson for Advent Sunday comes from the voice we know as the Third Isaiah,[1] writing in the 6th-century BCE during the return of the Exiles from Babylon to Jerusalem.

Like all Biblical texts, the writer has a context, writing for a specific audience facing real challenges as they live out their lives along the horizontal axis of time. Despite recognizing the contextual origins of Biblical texts, the reason they have been preserved and why we still refer to them is because they are regarded as sacred. In the Episcopal Church, we understand this to mean that they have a capacity to speak truth across time, beyond their context of origin. The sacred quality of Biblical texts lies in the way they form part of a transgenerational story.

Third Isaiah writes in a context of tension between national and global-transnational perspectives. Themes of immigration and border control; anxieties about racial and religious purity; questions concerning land ownership and community identity are among the deep currents that run through the period addressed by Third Isaiah. The particularity of this undercurrent of tension makes the voice of Third Isaiah particularly relevant for our hearing this Advent season.

The future, more pointedly a hope for the future, runs to the core of what the Advent Season of a new Church year is all about.

Historical context 

When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BCE he transplanted only the upper echelons of Judah’s society to Babylon, leaving the bulk of the peasantry to eek out lives amidst the ruins. With the destruction of Judah, other people migrated in to fill the vacuum left. Cyrus the Great, the Persian conqueror of the Babylonian Empire, in 539 decreed that the Exiles in Babylon could return to Judah. The Exiles, returning in several waves of migration came face to face with the Jewish-mixed race remnant who at first welcomed but eventually came to resent and oppose their return.

In the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, we get a clearer picture of the multiple tensions between the Jewish remnant, the neighboring peoples with vested interests, and the returning Exiles. For 70 years, the remnant and neighboring peoples had comprised the Persian province of Beyond the River – the river referring to the Euphrates. From the provincial capital at Damascus, they claimed control of Jerusalem and the land that had once comprised the kingdom of Judah. They represented a powerful political force that continually lobbied Cyrus against the returnees.

The voice of the prophet known as Third Isaiah is characterized by what on the surface seems to be a more global -universalist vision. The return of the Exiles would usher in a new age in which all nations would stream to worship God on his holy hill of Zion at Jerusalem. Yet, he also speaks with the voice of the Exiles who beneath the universalist vision harbored ruthless nationalist intentions of exclusion in the interests of religious and racial purity.

The paradox is that the returnees were the beneficiaries of the global multinational vision of the empire and at the same time were the ones insisting on a purist nationalist identity for themselves. We learn in Nehemiah of their rejection of the help offered by the remnant peoples in rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple; only the exilic community was to be allowed to perform this task. We learn in the book of Ezra of the extent to which the exilic community feared and despised the remnant because of their globalist-transnational outlook and their inter-racial accommodations.

The Scribes had spent the period of captivity editing old and writing new sacred texts to hone an exclusive monotheism. Now back in Jerusalem, Ezra and the Scribes around him demanded the divorce and expulsion of all foreign wives taken by Jewish men along with the children born to these interracial marriages; an action even from this distance resonates for with ethnic cleansing.

In Chapter 64, Third Isaiah struggles to make sense of his world. He notes how the Jews needed to remember the great things that in the past God had performed among their ancestors. He also notes their need to remember that it was through unfaithfulness that God had abandoned them. He thus arrives at a significant realization. He writes that we all have become unclean. All our deeds like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and like a wind, our iniquities take all of us away. Kristen Wendland commenting on this text observes that:

When one reads this passage in Hebrew, one is struck by the repeated phrase “all of us” (kulanu). In the NRSV the phrase appears as “we all” (vs. 6a, 6b, 8, 9) but is less obvious than in Hebrew where the word hangs on somewhat awkwardly at the ends of the phrases. We are like one unclean — all of us (vs. 6a). We drooped like a leaf — all of us (vs. 6b). We are the work of your hand — all of us (vs.8). Consider, we are your people — all of us (vs. 9). 

We don’t know who Third Isaiah had in mind as included in the phrase all of us, but contrary to events of the time it presents the possibility for inclusion rather than exclusion.

Contemporary context

So far, I have outlined what we know of the context into which the prophet Third Isaiah’s voice sounded. It’s a voice in which we detect the struggle between national and multinational interests, a tension between racial and religious purity, and a universal message of inclusion.  Yet, in interpreting sacred text we need to pay perhaps more attention to the way we hear this voice speaking into our own context. How do we hear the prophet’s words today?

Among the nations of the global West, we find ourselves facing an unprecedented rise in the tensions similar to those faced by Third Isaiah and the returning exilic community in the 530’s BCE. We appear to be coming to a crucial point in the post-war period’s vision of an increasingly global society of blurred national and ethnic interests in the service of economic realignment and multicultural assimilation. Of course in the US, this post-war trajectory emerges seamlessly out of a national culture built upon the vision of the nation defined as a melting pot of hitherto national, racial, and religious differences.

This period of post-war global-internationalist expansion has triggered a nationalist, and protectionist backlash. Within the US, we witness the alarming resurgence of older tribal and racial identities. We are uncomfortable recognizing that these have always persisted beneath the surface of the melting pot vision. Are we at the end of the post-war liberalism and in transition to something else? No one can really know as the future is yet to become clearly defined.

As with Third Isaiah, all we can do is, with as much honesty and repentance as we can muster, face up to our helplessness in the search for quick solutions to the deep and complex issues of our time.  This is not a counsel of despair. Third Isaiah precedes us to this place. He proclaims an image of humanity as clay with God as potter, molding and shaping us into our future:

Yet, O Lord you are our God: we are the clay, and you are our potter, we are the work of you hand … consider that we are your people.

Advent hope

The future, more pointedly a hope for the future, runs to the core of what the Advent Season of a new Church year is all about.

Advent is the season during which we focus with special intensity on hope. Hope is a quality of the eternal. Hope is hope because it’s the focus on something that is not yet arrived.

Hope is the capacity to project into the future an expectation of something better than what we already have. Yet we have no direct control over how to make our hopes real. But without hope, we will lack the necessary compass settings, without which we will remain lost, having no predetermined direction of travel.

In Advent, our immediate object for our hope is the birth of Jesus. The nativity of Jesus opens upon a deeper truth of God revealed as the Incarnation – the reason for all our hope- the point of intersection between the dimensions of time and eternity.

Hope’s contours

  • The first is that compared or optimism hope appears to be audacious and unrealistic. Optimism is a reading of the evidence as fortuitous. There is always evidence for optimism. Whereas there is no evidence for that, which is hoped for. Yet hope persists.
  • The second is that hope is life-giving because it is sustained by our experience of loss. The pain and suffering of loss become the energy and engine for the projection of hope. Hope is the capacity to project into the future an expectation of something better than what we already have. Hoping is not just wishful thinking, a wouldn’t it be nice, kind of sentiment. Hope requires grit and courage. Arising in the face of confusion and adversity, hope is the determination to not settle for that, which is less than life-giving. Therefore, hope costs.
  • That for which we hope is already present to us through the action of hoping. Therefore hope realizes itself.

Adversity seeks to bury hope little realizing that hope is a seed.


[1] The book of Isaiah comprises three different voices writing amidst three periods of crisis spanning a period of 250-300 years

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