Advent begins

“How did the children’s scissors end up on your desk? I was almost ready to ask you to pick up some new ones at the store.” I had no answer to the question. My best guess is that the scissors were taken from their usual place by a grandchild, used and returned to my desk instead of the secretary where they usually live. At any rate, it was no problem. They are found and have been returned to their usual place. I have, however, had some items show up on the shopping list that one might not expect: “Glue sticks sometimes come in packages of multiples. Get at least three if you can find a package.” “Clear contact paper. We could use a roll.” “We’ll need colored paper in the large 12” x 18” sheets.” “Oh, and we’ll need marshmallows, the miniature ones.”

Those items may seem strange to some retired couples, but they aren’t that strange to me. I’ve been married to a very creative woman for 47 years and for at lest 42 of those years she has been planning Advent festivals and fairs for children. It makes sense that among her priorities these days is creating Advent craft projects for our grandchildren. Now that we live close to their home, it is easy for us to “borrow” children for adventures. Today the plan is for us to pick up the children right after lunch. Their father will come down and have supper with us and pick up the children. Actually, we’re borrowing more than just the children. We’ll leave our car at their place and take their minivan, complete with car seats for three children and swap cars again when our son comes to our place.

There is a tulip farm not far from our new home and we’ll take the children there to pick out tulip and daffodil bulbs to plant at their house. Then we’ll come home for stories and hot chocolate by the fire. The craft project is making paper chains as we talk about hope. Then a traditional Sunday dinner of hot dogs, vegetable sticks and “ants on the log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins), topped off with the last of the Thanksgiving pie and a bit of ice cream.

For those who think that we are spoiling our grandchildren, I quote my mother: “Love never spoils anything. You can’t spoil a child by loving.”

Advent is a very special season of the year for me. During the shortest days of the year, when the nights are long and the weather is cold, we set aside time to focus our attention on anticipation and waiting. We renew our understanding that hope is not a matter of expressing our wishes, but rather of shifting our attitude. We need to invest time each year renewing our belief in the future. A wise colleague once reminded me that God is always in our future, calling us to new life. The mistakes and regrets of the past can be forgiven. John Robinson’s sermon to the 17th century Pilgrims still rings true: “There is yet more truth and light to break forth from God’s Holy Word.”

Hope is a deeply ingrained part of the fabric of our faith that we received from those who have gone before and we leave to our children and grandchildren. Hope is the starting point of our Advent journey each year. Peace, joy and love will come as we travel through the season and each of them is undergirded by hope.

We often think of hope in terms of desire. It can even be expressed in selfish ways. People use the word hope to express the lists of things they want. They will say the hope to get a new car or they hope someday they can afford a bigger house. As a theological virtue, hope is something deeper, however. It lies in the fundamental belief that there is good in the future that extends to all of creation and that good is difficult, but not impossible to attain with God’s help. At the same time as we are longing for change, the rest of the world shares that longing and hope is the element that enables us to believe that the change will come.

The Christmas Carol, “O Holy Night” expresses it this way: “Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” The whole world is longing for peace, joy and love. It isn’t a purely personal desire, but rather a benefit for all people. And it can seem impossible - beyond our abilities to bring about. Hope bursts forth when we realize that we are not alone and that we can participate in something much bigger than ourselves. The tidings of comfort and joy of which we sing do don’t come easy in a world beset by a pandemic with the infection and death rates rising. They do not come easy for those who are facing the loss of income and the loss of their homes. The solutions to the world’s problems are not easy. In order to face the hard work of bringing justice and peace to the world requires a deep belief in the possibility of making hard changes.

Teaching difficult theological lessons - ones that took generations for our people to discover - to children is a challenging and difficult task. And it is one that we need to repeat - over and over again, recognizing that each year we are able to understand a bit more clearly and embrace the concept a bit more deeply.

We wish you renewed hope in this Advent season. May you discover new depths of possibility in the season of darkness.

You can see why children’s scissors, glue sticks and colored paper and even miniature marshmallows have made it to the list of essential items for Advent at our house.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!