In both my sermons so far this Advent (preached at different churches) I have found myself using the phrase “sure and certain hope” to describe the hope-filled expectation of Advent. It’s an echo of the funeral liturgy: “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ”. And it’s an echo which reminds me that hope is not at all the same as optimism. Hope is not “it’s all going to be ok”, but that which endures when all is plainly not ok, in the face of loss and grief and trauma.
Underhill’s emphasis on Holy Week and Jesus’ passion and death as a site of hope, a clinging to hope which mirrors the expectant hope of the coming incarnation, is one which takes seriously the idea of hope as that which persists. And what is it that persists when all around us seems lost, persists even in the face of death itself, and still allows for not just the possibility of hope but a hope which is “sure and certain”? Underhill describes it as “an absolute hold on the reality of God”. A hold, and a reality, which persists against all the odds.
It is not always an easy hold to maintain, to hold onto hope, to hold onto the reality of God. One of the things we remember as we journey through Advent in the company of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the prophets, John the Baptist, and Mary, is that we do not hold onto hope alone. Persistence in hopeful expectation is a communal task, a task of communion, a task in which we dare to remember together the enormity of God’s faithful, steadfast, persistent love, which is the cause of our hope.
This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.