Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.
In these middle days of Advent our attention turns toward John the Baptizer in our Sunday readings, and we begin to imagine what it is like to not see something through to completion.
No, we don’t begin to wonder, we begin to come to grips with the fact that many of us will start things that won’t be completed in our lifetimes.
John the Baptizer would never live to see Jesus resurrected from the dead, even as he proclaimed the Messiah’s presence with his every breath. My grandfather would never see me graduate from college, even though he set money aside for me to do so. This is exactly what Niebuhr is speaking of when he talks about being “saved by hope.”
We may not see everything our hand plants, but holding on to this truth can, in fact, save us. It can save us from having to think we have to do it all, and have to do it all right now. It can save us from the idea that we are saviors ourselves (and, truthfully, that’s too much pressure for anyone). And it can save us from despair, because bending the moral arc of the world toward justice takes a while, and goes in fits and spurts, and so we must hold on to the hope, the promise, the Advent truth: God is on the way.
God is on the way.
- What will you pour yourself into that you know you will not see to fruition? Bless it today.
- How can you give thanks today for someone who poured themselves into your life’s journey, but who didn’t see you graduate, marry, get promoted, or make a milestone that they helped along the way?
Let us pray. In these long days when it feels like you tarry too much, Lord, remind us that time is your servant, and not the other way around. Help us to live in the constant hope that the good seeds we plant at your bidding will bear fruit. In the name of the Christ, buried in the tomb but risen to new life, we pray. Amen.
All italicized quotes, poems, and prayers come from An Advent Sourcebook (Liturgy Training Publications/Chicago, IL, 1986).