When Hope Is Silent

Dec 03 2017


What does it mean to truly hope for something? Do we wait with anticipation, but also anxiety? Is the anxiety because we do not know how we will face the realization of our hope, or is it anxiety that our hope will never be fulfilled? What is hope, really? Is it a wish for something? Or is it a deep heart-felt longing that needs to be fulfilled and hope is our looking forward to and believing in the fulfillment of that longing? I believe it is the latter.

Children at Christmas are a good example of the wish-like experience of hope. But real hope is a deep heart-felt yearning that something wonderful will come to pass.

What the early Jews hoped for was the coming of a Messiah that would fulfill the prophecies in their Hebrew Scriptures.

They anxiously awaited his coming, charted the stars to anticipate it, and then did not fully realize it even when it occurred. Their concept of the life of the anxiously awaited Savior was as varied as our concepts of Christmas.

Most expected a warrior king - another who was as strong as David and who would rescue them from the hands of their enemies. Others expected one who would fulfill the prophecies which abounded in the Old Testament and bring them more information about God. All expected a strong, political leader. None expected the Christ they got. The people did not understand Him. The religious leaders wanted nothing to do with Him and perceived of Him as a threat, The Romans wanted no more trouble in their land.

Look around you during this season? Are there not people for whom hope is elusive? Are there not people so mired in despair, illness and poverty that they no longer believe that hope is for them? Are there not people wondering if they will make it through another winter as they roam the streets of our cities homeless and poor? Are there not people and situations in which hope is silent and seems impossible to imagine? Are there not people who believe that God has deserted them?

Are they asking? Are we asking? Where is God? Was Jesus really God’s Son? How do I know that God exists? What can I do to get closer to God? Those questions are not confined to Christianity. I recently read “An American Family” written by Khizr Khan, a Muslim. You may remember the name from the presidential campaign. He was the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic convention and offered to lend his copy of the Constitution to Trump. In the book, he recounts a conversation that he had with his grandfather.

“One night when I was a boy, watching the moon from my cot, my grandfather came and stood over me. "1 have a question for you," he said. He motioned for me to move my feet to one side, then sat at the end of the bed, fixed his gaze on me.

"Where do you think," he asked, "you can go to find God?" 1 considered his query for a moment, wondering if there was a correct answer, something I'd missed in my studies. I could tell from his face, though, through the gentleness of his expression, that he wasn't quizzing me but rather teaching.

"I don't know," I said.

"Well, some people go into the forests to find God," he said.

"But if he was there, the sheep and the cows and the animals of the forest already would have found him." A pause. "Some people go to the river and onto the ocean to find God. But if he were there, wouldn't the fish and the frogs have already found him?" Another pause. "And some people go into the mountains, but if he was there, the mountaineers and the goats already would have found him." A longer pause, my grandfather looking at me with a kind of half smile.

"So where do you go to find God?"

He smiled widely now. "Ah, that is for you to tell me."

I went to sleep that night turning the puzzle over in my head.

In my child's mind, the mountains made the most sense, since God was up in Heaven and mountains were tall and closer to Heaven. Or maybe in the forest, because God created the trees and the pastures and all the creatures of the earth, and he might want to be with them, out in nature. But he created the oceans, too, and there were a lot of creatures beneath the seas and a lot of Heaven spread out above them. Maybe that was where to find him.

The next night, my grandfather told me a different story, and then said good night.

"Wait," I said. "You never told me where to find God." He smiled and nodded. "Later," he said. "Keep thinking." I thought for another day and another night and then the following day, too, and still I wasn't sure. On the third night, I asked him again.

"You don't know?" he said. "That's all right. So many people don't know." He shook his head slowly. "God is in the hearts of people," he told me. "And that is where you find him, out among the people."

Has God deserted anyone, or is it we who have so deserted our fellow human beings that they believe God has deserted them? This Advent, as we wait for Christ to be born among us once again, let’s remember what Khizr’s grandfather told him. God is in our hearts and among the people. The eyes of God shine at us from the eyes of the homeless, the eyes of the ill, the eyes of the poor. The eyes of God shine at us through the eyes of our families and friends. The eyes of God shine at us as we love others and they love us. And if we truly believe that God resides in the hearts of all of us, then during this special season, when we touch another who needs our help, we touch the hand of God.

It is not God who will give hope to another; it is us. We are called by God to be a Christ to others. Can we do that? Can we truly bring hope to another human being during this Advent season? Can our hands become the hands of the God in us reaching out to the God in another? Can we bring hope? Or will hope remain silent for those who need it the most? Amen.