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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

Cultivating Hope
December 15, 2016

Advent calls us to strengthen our hope in the Good News proclaimed by John the Baptist and then by Jesus himself – God’s reign is at hand! All shall indeed be well. In the words of Andrae Crouch’s stirring Advent hymn, “Soon, and very soon, we are going to see the King!” (Glory to God #384) Jesus, who is with us already in the Spirit, will come in fullness to banish all that harms and destroys, establishing peace and justice for all the world.

Alas, events swirling around us render such hope exquisitely difficult to sustain. Global terror abounds. Wars continue to rage. The wealth gap grows ever wider. Around the world, as well as at home, strangers are increasingly likely to be rejected rather than welcomed by majority cultures. Bullying is on the rise, and kindness is mocked as weakness. Advent hope may be harder than ever to summon, yet more necessary than ever to cultivate. So how do we nourish our hope in our Lord’s Advent in the face of such contrary prevailing conditions?

First, stop. We need to renew our practice of Shabbat, which literally means “stop.” Take a pause from our breakneck rat-race that promises little more than exhaustion. It is nearly impossible to cultivate hope when our energies are being dissipated by constant commotion and contest, no matter how good our work may be.

Second, step back. Move far enough away from the mad rush to gain sufficient perspective to enable us to see the larger horizon of God’s purposes for us and for our world. Retreat both from our consuming labors, and from the surging cultural and political anxieties that threaten to capsize us. Turn down the blaring media cacophony that constantly stokes fear, outrage, anxiety, and despair. Take a break from technology.

Third, open your eyes. When we stop and step back, we need to open our eyes to see the world from a new perspective. The purpose of stepping back is not to disengage the world, but to be able to see it in new ways so we can engage it more faithfully and fruitfully. In order to see our world in new ways, we “turn our eyes upon Jesus” (to borrow a phrase from another gospel song), the One who is both the spring of our hope and our hope itself. When Jesus asks the twelve whether they will leave him, as others have, they reply, “To whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) “Behold the Lamb of God!” John cries out in the wilderness, pointing to Jesus. It is the essence of his Advent message, and it remains the core of our Advent message today.

Retreat for its own sake can certainly re-energize us for a while. But only when it leads us to see our world and its Savior more expansively does it imbue us with abiding hope.

The world around us increasingly lodges its hopes in the strength of leaders and systems that promise to protect its own interests. Distribution of blessing is seen as a zero-sum game – the more others get, the less we will have, we are told. So we attach ourselves to programs and promises designed to curtail blessings to others in order to assure our own. Our hopes of good news are pinned on others getting bad news.

When Jesus comes, he brings abundant hope for all the world, not just for insiders or for those who would cast out the insiders. We cultivate the hope of his kingdom by returning from our “stop-stand back-open our eyes” retreat with a commitment to become agents of Advent hope ourselves. Our hope is built not on wishful thinking or denial of the world’s pressing problems, but on the Good News announced in the coming of Christ. God’s reign is breaking in already, and soon will appear in its fullness. Jesus has come, and will come again! Good news of great joy for all people! (Luke 2:10)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Abounding in hope,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister

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