Nesting for Hope

Thursday, December 7, 2023

From Michael Anthony Howard, Minister of Faith in Action,
Living Water Association, Ohio North East, UCC

Tags: Streams of Connection | From Our Association Ministers | Faith in Action

Advent is a season of expectation and anticipation. We light candles in collective prayer, reminding ourselves what our faith is all about. Like mothers to-be, we nest, expecting the arrival of the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ to be born in the world around us.

It is also a season of charitable giving—don’t forget to donate! It is a season of stories that warn against greed and  highlight destitution. It  feels good to give, and so we spend the season collectively practicing it. Yet, Advent reminds us of the specific gifts God calls us to embody.

Lighting a candle of hope reminds us that charity isn’t good enough. Hope is not transactional. It cannot be outsourced with a check, a gift card, or a jam cake. Hope is a sacred and divine gift. God offers hope to us in Christ so that we might give it to others. Where charity addresses immediate needs, hope changes lives.

As the holiday season wraps us in a spirit of giving, our collective attention turns towards the “less fortunate.” Toxic charity unintentionally labels community members solely by their needs, expecting them to  showcase  their  shortcomings in exchange for partial and temporary quick-fixes to enduring problems. Charities like the Salvation Army diligently collect donations outside grocery stores. Toy drives and community meals abound. Warm spaces are offered to shield the homeless from the cold. While these acts of service are desperately needed, hope moves us beyond the familiar rhythms of giving. Where charity labels people according  to  their  deficiencies,  hope names strengths and awakens possibilities.

In her excellent book, Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit writes, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future

away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Because it is relational, hope adds  dignity  to charity. To hope is to make the crucial shift from transactional and toxic charity to lasting community transformation. Hope calls for a more profound understanding of the systemic forces that sustain the challenges the people in our community  face.

Hope goes beyond gestures of generosity or giving extra time doing direct service—as important as that service may be. Hope involves a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths. It demands that we unravel the intricate web of economic, social, and political factors that contribute to the persistence of the injustice around us. The unspoken promise at the heart of our holiday generosity is our calling, not just to feed the hungry, but to actively root out the causes of hunger in our communities—to actively hope.

This season, as we light the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love, let us pray to learn to better utilize these relational gifts God has given us in Christ. During this Advent, what if all of our preparations and anticipations were focused on giving the gift of hope, learning to be people who make for peace, building communities of justice and joy, and demonstrating what love looks like in public. Advent is our collective opportunity to question the way the world is and actively work for its healing and wholeness. When the candles of Advent are lit, may they light in us the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love. May we give to alleviate immediate suffering while offering ourselves to the work that hope bears in us.