Pastor’s Pen for December 2017

“Comfort Ye! Comfort ye my people! Says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her

that her warfare is ended, and her iniquity is pardoned.”

– Isaiah 40:1-2

Beloved of God,

Daylight is precious these days, and growing more so. By 4:20pm on December 1st the sun has gone over the horizon, and each morning on its low arc through the sky it rises later as it moves relentlessly toward the winter solstice—the northern hemisphere’s shortest day and longest night.

As a kid, I loved venturing out this season of the year in the wildest blizzards Mother Nature could conjure.  Bundled against the elements with nothing but a slit for my eyes, I would trek through the neighborhood, tromping through swirling snow drifts, awed and exhilarated as the storm propelled me into the experience its dark fury.  After such a foray into wild darkness, returning to the light and warmth of home and hearth was a revelation:  Ah! What grace!  What wonder!  What gratitude!

We mark this holiday time with displays of glitz and glitter and erect strings of lights on our homes and businesses that will shine through these December nights.  But behind these displays is, I think, a primitive urge to do what we can, in whatever way we can, to fight against the encroaching dark.  And that darkness comes in many forms: headlines that scream crisis after relentless crisis; project deadlines at school or work that sap declining energy; struggles in family life and health issues that keep us awake at night; anniversaries of loss.  These somber realities leave their mark even more deeply during this season of sun-challenged days.

The ancient Greeks didn’t know about light displays in December, but they knew the nightmare scenarios that populate the human story. It began with their old myth about Pandora, who opened a beautiful box only to discover it was packed with all the ills and evils the gods had trapped inside.  Amid the ensuing racket of pain, anger, and quarreling, Pandora heard another small voice inside the container. When she lifted the lid again, HOPE came forth and began to soothe humankind’s new wounds and heartaches.[1]

The Bible’s oldest word for hope, Fred Niedner points out, is “tikvah,” which also means cord or thread.  It was once standard practice for Midwest farmers to fix a line between farmhouse and barn during the winter months.  When properly secured, the fixed rope could be a lifesaver, providing guidance and a safe traveling route through the most debilitating blizzards.  The meaning of the Biblical cord, like that fixed line, is obvious. “In the darkness, beset by fears, threats and enemies known and unknown, we sometimes find ourselves clinging to a single thread [or rope] that keeps us going from one moment to the next. Without hope, some solitary cord from which to suspend our lives, the darkness would have us.”[2]

The words from Isaiah 40 served as that cord, that TIKVAH, for a whole community of people who had come to know the darkness of exile. This exiled community, notes Walter Brueggemann “came within a whisker of being able to imagine its future only in the terms permitted and sanctioned by Babylon, a sure program for despair and diminishment.”[3]

But then, onto this scene bursts a new voice: “Comfort Ye! Comfort ye my people! Says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…” God’s exiled people couldn’t imagine this language, much less invent it.  It had to come from OUTSIDE them, and it did.  And what was so radical about it and radically new, is that it pointed them toward a future that the prophet said God was creating for them!  For some folks, this word of hope must have sounded like so much commercial hype about how life will improve if only you purchase this item or invest in this product, and they wanted nothing of it.  In fact, Brueggemann points out, most exiles stayed with the empire, which seemed to have all the goodies.  But some few took a chance on the poetry.

How are we to imagine our futures?  Where is God beckoning us to go?  Where does the TIKVAH lead?  These are Advent questions, and crucial ones for this time in which we live.  When we light the candles of the Advent wreaths at home, we repeat one simple phrase that grounds us in this season of dark nights: “Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.” The cord to which we fasten our grip must be anchored in something beyond ourselves—and it is. The line leads us to Jesus.  It is, in the end, the one line which will endure even when we do not.

Ever with Hope,

Pastor Erik


[1] The image comes from Fred Niedner’s article in the Indiana Post Tribune:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brueggemann, Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2000). Pages 65, 66.

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