Second Sunday in Advent
Luke 1:68-79; 3:1-6
If your Bible does not include the book of Baruch, try copying and pasting this link:
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
- from T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: East Coker III
(written in September, 1940, during the air-raids in London)
For the past few years at Bethel, we have been journeying through Advent seasons according to a scheme of themes for each of the four Sundays: Hope, Peace, Joy, Love.
If you’re curious, ask me why.
This past Sunday, we sang songs of hope for the coming of God’s kingdom on earth and of Jesus Christ in final victory. I preached on the intersection between our hopes and our (two-way) prayers: if we find ourselves hoping— and fearing/ worrying, that ought to turn us to praying about our hopes— and worries/ fears. Our prayers will help us, in God’s good time, to hope God’s hopes and do God’s will, laying aside our fears and worries. There’s so much to be said about our fears and worries of the present day: no way could I touch on their full scope. But I somewhat regret not mentioning this topic: the current epidemic of hopelessness and suicide in our nation.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last week released its annual report on life expectancy. CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, M.D., stated, “The latest CDC data show that the U.S. life expectancy has declined over the past few years. Tragically, this troubling trend is largely driven by deaths from drug overdose and suicide. Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the Nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable. CDC is committed to putting science into action to protect U.S. health, but we must all work together to reverse this trend and help ensure that all Americans live longer and healthier lives.”
I’m all for it. Science is information. Such information has a great place in our love for our neighbor: it can inform us about what we may do to help people, and what hurtful things we ought NOT do to one another. Witness the many life-saving and quality-of-life enhancing medical developments that bless our lives and those of our loved ones.
But we require a deeper, spiritual ground for our hope: in our prayers and our other thoughts and conversations, we hold in front of God the situations that so many of our neighbors find hopeless. What is the true, spiritual nature of the problems we/ they face ? What can we really do ?
Here’s some information that we followers of Jesus can pray about and act upon, from the CDC:
12 suicide warning signs:
Feeling like a burden
Feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Increased substance use
Looking for a way to access lethal means
Increased anger or rage
Extreme mood swings
Sleeping too little or too much
Talking or posting about wanting to die
Making plans for suicide
5 Steps to help someone at risk
Keep them safe.
Help them connect.
For many neighbors, including folks in the churches, this season is a blue time despite the tinsel and green and red decorations.
As the days darken toward the Winter solstice, we may be bearers of this good news, brought to us by the priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptizer:
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit
in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”