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A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery

The Hopes and Fears of All the Years
November 29, 2018

Hope for deliverance from life’s struggles is as ancient as the fear of succumbing to them. The biblical story of creation tells of both the curse of human suffering and the promise of its cure. The hope that redemption wins is nurtured by God’s promise that the evil one who bruises the human heel will be ultimately bruised in the head by Eve’s progeny. (Genesis 3:14-16) This is the beginning of the Advent story in Holy Scripture.

The story thread remains continuous throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, strengthening along the way until a very robust picture of God’s Deliverer from sin’s bondage emerges in the later prophets. There is always in this story a mixture of hope and fear – fear of being overwhelmed by today’s depredations, and hope for future rescue.

When Jesus came, a few saw in him the fulfillment of ancient Messianic promises. Jesus claimed that the Scriptures were fulfilled in his life and mission. (Luke 22:37; John 5:39) From its earliest apostolic days, the Christian community has found abounding evidence in Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was God’s chosen Messiah of whom the ancients spoke. Yet for all that fulfillment, followers of Jesus still longed for a better world than the one they currently knew. It is still so for us today.

Advent hope does not obliterate our struggles. Nor do our struggles kill our hope. Life as we know it remains lodged in the Advent “in-between,” even though Jesus has already come to declare and enact our deliverance from sin and death. The difficulties of life are no less acute for those who confess Jesus as God’s Messiah.

Here is the difference that Advent makes – it proclaims that hope triumphs over fear. Apart from Advent, fear all too easily becomes our primary posture as we face the future. Advent does not take away our struggles, but it trades future fear for present hope.

Beware anything purporting to be the Christian Gospel that seeks to gain a following by stoking fear of the future. Whether to elicit religious conversions or to promote political agendas, future-fear is antithetical to Advent hope.

This is not to suggest we should be reckless or quiescent in the face of evil, which surely does yet roam our world. Its threats are real. But Advent announces that every evil is doomed to die, and that the One who is the “hope of every human heart” shall surely prevail in the end. In the immortal words of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), from the first extant book in the English language written by a woman, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of thing shall be well.” And so, dear friends, let us rejoice in good hope!

Yours in Advent hope,

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

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