I was ordained seven years ago in the season of Advent.
I can remember with great enthusiasm and expectation entering through the double doors seeing the community of faith who first called me pastor gathered to participate and bless the call on my life.
That kind of gathering seems so distant right now. It has been a long time since we have been able to talk and fellowship together.
Even as we have pieced together safe ways to gather as the people of God via livestreams, outdoor worship and socially distant masked gatherings, it doesn’t feel the same.
And now we enter the season in the church year where the message is clear: wait and watch. This feels like a heavy message when all we seem to have been doing is waiting and watching.
The gospel writer in Mark 13:32-37 says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
“It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
I was ordained in a church named Emmanuel, “God with us.” I remember the preparation for the ordination service.
The church was decorated for Advent and included beautiful handmade banners. The first one hung the day I was ordained read, “Hope.”
As we were preparing for the service that was coupled with a church reunion, I had to learn how to hang the Advent banners.
A system of two wall anchor screws held a thin curtain rod. In order to hang these, I climbed onto a chair and reached as high as my 5-foot-3-inch frame could until I felt the holes in the drywall from where “hope” hung last year.
It was difficult and uncomfortable. Several attempts ended with “hope” crumpled on the ground.
This is the kind of hope I am bringing to Advent this year. Crumpled hope. Difficult hope. Uncomfortable hope.
I am reaching just as high as I can trying to find the holes where we hung “hope” last year, but I can’t seem to find it.
So much has changed. So many souls aren’t with us this year as a pandemic has ravaged our world. So many families are waiting in food lines desperate and hungry.
I can’t seem to find the anchor we used to use when we entered this season because even as all the world has changed so too have we changed.
We have spent more time at home. We have spent more time away from our communities, families and friends. We have spent more time with ourselves.
As we have walked these solitary days, we have been reminded of the very strongest in ourselves and of the very things we try to run away from by keeping ourselves busy and moving.
Keep alert. Keep awake.
Find hope. It might be crumpled in the corner or on the ground, but just as God is with us, so too is hope.
And when you find it, reach up as high as you can and hang hope so that others may see it.
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a weekly series for Advent. One article will be published each week for the four Sundays of Advent, with a final article published on Christmas week.
Pastor of Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, South Carolina, and editor-in-chief of Harrelson Press Publishing.