Greg's Weekly Word: "hope"*
The Shawshank Redemption is one of those movies I can watch anytime it's on TV. (And it seems like it is always on!) So if you will humor me, take a couple minutes to watch this clip from the movie as a couple of prisoners, Andy (played by Tim Robbins) and Red (played by Morgan Freeman) talk about hope.
The First Sunday of Advent is always designated as the Sunday of hope, as we anticipate the arrival of God in the birth of Christ. But so often, we don't have a reason to hope. All of the evidence is to the contrary, it seems. We may not see any signs that what we are hoping for will happen. When we are cut-off and deadened by despair, hope can feel like a dangerous dream - a fantasy that does us no good.
In one of the lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells us to learn a lesson in hope from the fig tree.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that it is near... (Mark 13:28-29)
Reflecting on this image and remembering his own horticultural struggle, Will Henkel writes,
After the first winter in which I had left my fig tree standing naked in the cold, I was
certain it had died. It was Spring and not a leaf in sight.
Nonetheless a fellow fig tree farmer instructed me not to uproot the tree but instead to
cut it down almost to the ground. I waited and watched the spared ‘dead’ stump for days
and weeks, certain that all hope must reasonably be abandoned. Then, after the rest of
the garden was well into its growth cycle and the lettuce bed was daily filling our salad
bowl, I was surprised by that joy of which I had despaired - green leaves sprouting from
the fig tree stump, unbelievably late but oh so welcome. There would be home grown
figs once again in my future, if not right away, perhaps the following year. And there
It seems that Jesus knew the fig tree well, that it was not a Spring thing. That it was a
harbinger of the next season, a late to appear sentinel announcing summer. That even
when we could not yet see its first leaves we needed to tend and feed and love the tree
until that moment would come......believing that it would come.
Jesus knew that we as well would grow weary in our watching and waiting for the new
creation that is coming, that there would be days and seasons we would want to pack it
all in and go back to bed. But knowing that, he encouraged us...not to stop tending those
around us who are caught up in the suffering of the world that is nigh unto death. Nor to
succumb to our own now-and-then yielding to the things that make for death and
Whatever the time, it is not too late...
Which brings me back to The Shawshank Redemption. After losing hope of ever finding a free and fruitful life, Red is finally released. He finds a note left by his friend, Andy, which reads:
Remember Red: hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.
Hope is good because it allows us to envision something different than what we have known - something better, something more, a new world. And because of that, it is dangerous, because hope challenges the way things are and the world in which we live.
But no matter what - no matter how dire or despairing the circumstances in which we find ourselves - hope never dies. No matter what, it is never too late for God to bring forth life.
So during this Advent season, may we look at the world with renewed hope. And even when it seems like God's joy and justice and light and life are not coming, may we tend and nourish that new creation, believing and living as if it will come. Because in our living, it does.
*During Advent, my weekly word will be the word associated with each Sunday of the season (i.e. hope, peace, joy, love).