Uncertainty and Hope
I am very happy to say that our son Nicholas came home from school last week. As we prepared for his return, Carrie and I made an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t harass him, at least not right away. The problem is, Nicholas will graduate next May, and we are anxious about what happens afterwards.
Predictably, I broke first. At supper last Sunday, I asked Nicholas what he planned to do when he graduated.
That was just an opening shot. Nicholas has been fending off our requests for information for years, and he has gotten really good at it. I knew this was not going to be an easy conversation.
Nicholas told us he didn’t know. I pressed on. Have you been thinking about it? He said he had, and stopped. So, I said, “Well, what have you been thinking about?” He responded that he hadn’t decided anything.
So we went back and forth for a while. By the end of the meal, Nicholas had told us that he might go for more schooling, or maybe not. If he did go back to school, he wasn’t sure where he might go or in what field. If he got a job, he also didn’t know in what field or where. Round one went to him.
The one thing Nicholas did say, repeatedly, was that he would figure it out, that everything would be fine, and that it didn’t help for us to pester him with questions that he couldn’t or wouldn’t answer.
I anticipate repeating this exact conversation many times over the next few weeks.
That is the background I bring to our readings for this morning. And it is pretty good preparation for thinking about how the disciples must have felt as they talked to Jesus.
Jesus has spent the day arguing with the religious authorities in the Temple. As Jesus and his disciples left at the end of the day, Jesus warned them that the Temple would be utterly destroyed.
Shocked, the disciples want to know when it will happen. That sets Jesus off on a long description of the Second Coming, ending with the reading we just heard, including the promise that the Son of Man will come “with great power and glory” to “gather his elect…from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
That last bit is good news. But Jesus doesn’t give details. And among the details that Jesus does not give is the answer to the specific question the disciples had asked, the question “when will this be.”
I am guessing that the conversation among the disciples that night was a lot like my conversation with Carrie after our supper with Nicholas. We asked each other, “Did he ever answer our question?” We speculated about what might happen with our son, without really having any idea. My guess is, the disciples were doing exactly the same thing two thousand years ago, although with considerably higher stakes.
The disciples knew that God was in charge. The disciples knew that Jesus would one day bring about God’s kingdom. But the disciples had to live with considerable ambiguity about what exactly would happen and when. For whatever reason, Jesus left them with that uncertainty, just as Nicholas did with us.
Uncertainty about the future makes most people, including me!, anxious. But Christ’s promises also give us hope.
That combination of uncertainty and hope is what Advent is all about. We look forward to the coming of our Lord. That’s the hope part. And we know that Christ will come in a surprising way and at a surprising time. That’s the uncertain and anxiety-provoking part.
But most years, I don’t really feel the Advent mood. I don’t know when Jesus is going to come back. But most years I don’t have much uncertainty about how we will experience Advent here at Saint David’s. We’ll enjoy our traditions during Advent and then we will celebrate Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve. It is all wonderful, and a big part of what makes it wonderful is that it is all so familiar and comfortable.
But not this year. For better or for worse, this year we have been thrust into a true Advent experience of uncertainty. This year we don’t know exactly what will happen. We’re moving everything online, and none of us have any idea how that will go.
And that uncertainty isn’t going away anytime soon.
I want to know what God is calling us to be and to do in the new year. But I don’t have any idea what the new year is going to be like. How much longer will the pandemic last? When we will be able to come back together as a community of faith in our building, worshipping how we want to worship? What it will be like when that happens?
Not knowing makes planning difficult. Not knowing is uncomfortable.
But I don’t know. None of us does. We are all in the same position as the disciples all those centuries ago.
We live in an uncertain world. But we live in hope. We know that Jesus is in charge. And we know that Jesus will eventually make everything right even if we don’t know what’s going to happen in the meantime.
And so today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we gather in uncertainty, but also in hope.
And one concrete expression of that hope is our pledges, which we will dedicate in a few minutes. Our pledges represent our commitment to continue to serve God with each other in this community of faith. Even more, our pledges represent our faith and our hope in the God we know in Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years ago, Christ was born as Immanuel, which means God with us. Ever since, Christ has continued to be with us, his people. Christ is with us today, as we gather for the last time this year. Christ will continue to be with us as we worship him online. And Christ will bring us back together, on the other side of this pandemic, to continue the work of ministry that never stops.
Today I give thanks to Christ who is with us in the uncertainty. I give thanks to Christ who gives us hope. And I give thanks to Christ for all of you and for the statement of faith and hope that many of you are making with your pledges. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan