Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Do You Live in Hope? Reflections on Christmas Eve 2019

Do You Live in Hope?
Reflections on Christmas Eve

The Ven. Richard Geoffrey Leggett
24 December 2019

Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral
New Westminster BC

            My professor of Hebrew Bible, the late Fr. Joseph Hunt, told us a story of a late night train trip he took while he was still a monk of the Abbey of Mount Angel in Oregon.  He was travelling back to the West Coast from Chicago and, when he boarded the train and entered his compartment, he discovered his companion was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi.  The rabbi was equally surprised to see that he was about to spend a long trip with a Benedictine monk whose identity was unmistakable since Fr. Hunt was wearing his monastic habit.

            The two men made some pleasant sounds to one another as the train left the station.  Both men produced their prayer books and began to recite their night prayers in silence.  The silence, Fr. Hunt told us, lasted a long time.  When a Benedictine tells you the silence lasted a long time, then you know that you and I would have experienced it as an eternity.  They finished their prayers and then tried to have some conversation, but they soon lapsed back into silence.  After another long silence, the rabbi looked at Fr. Hunt and asked, ‘Do you live in hope?’  Fr. Hunt answered, ‘Yes, I live in hope.’  For the rest of their journey together the two men of faith talked about their hope in the coming of God’s promised reign of justice and peace.

            Do you live in hope?  This is the question I think slumbers in the hearts and minds of every human being.  At various times, some of them ritual such as tonight, some situational such as personal or communal crises, this question awakens from its slumber and commands our full attention.

            Many people are drawn to the story we tell tonight because they realize that there is something worth believing, worth falling head over heels in love with, in the mystery of this night.  Even if we are here because of family custom or nostalgia or some other reason, we are drawn here because we want to live in hope.  And this is what tonight offers us, hope in a future worth believing in, worth falling in love with, worth committing our lives to.

            The mystery of this night is more than the familiar hope engendered by the birth of any child, whether in a hospital, a home or a refugee camp.  What we encounter tonight is the embodiment of our hope that the challenges of our lives, or our communities and of our world are not how the world is now and ever shall be.

            From the unknowable beginnings of human self-awareness, God has been at work creating communities of help, of hope and of home.  These communities, past, present and future, dare to offer an alternative vision to the status quo and even dare to resist, not by coercion or violence but by doing justice, by loving our neighbours steadfastly and by walking humbly with God and with all our sisters and brothers, of every faith or none, near and far, known and not yet known.

            To be a disciple of the Child whose birth we celebrate tonight is to live for a world in which ‘goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death’. [1]  Living in this hope is not some na├»ve, warm feeling that blinds us to the realities of the present.  Living in this hope means committing ourselves, our souls and bodies, our minds and strengths, to working for this world, the world as God means it to be.

            Living in this hope is not easy.  We are often disappointed and perhaps even discouraged.  We are sustained by the stories of God’s holy ones who came before us and by the witness of the many holy ones, some who are religious believers and many who are not, who share this hope and work for it.  We are sustained by communities such as this one who raise us up when we stumble, who forgive us when we fall short and who whisper words of encouragement and wisdom when we are disheartened and uncertain.

            In the days to come we shall return to the rail compartments of our daily lives as the busyness of Christmas and the new year passes.  In those compartments we shall surely find familiar and not-so-familiar travelling companions.  Some of them may seem weary.  They will ask us, in one way or another, ‘Do you live in hope?’  May our answer be, ‘Yes, I live in hope.  Let me share my hope with you and you yours with me, so that we and all God’s children may be free and the earth come nearer to the dream we share.’

[1] Desmond Tutu as published in Evangelical Lutheran Worship 2006, Hymn #721.

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