Rev. Peter A. Olsen
Rev. Rachel M. Zarnke
From the Pastor's Desk
Advent is supposed to be the season of hope, which prompts me to wonder why it begins at the darkest time of the year. Encroaching darkness does not evoke hope. Moreover, the darkness seems to have been particularly dense this last year. We witnessed the slaying of the pastor and eight worshipers at Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a white supremacist. We have seen the rise of ISIS and its horrifying crusade of terror causing millions to flee their homelands and seek refuge wherever it can be found. The recent attacks in France sent shockwaves throughout the world, reminding us that our illusions of safety and security are just that-illusions. Yet Jesus calls upon us to look up with expectation and hope in the midst of all this violence and chaos, because the kingdom of God is drawing near. In the heart of darkness, there is hope.
We should not confuse hope with naive optimism. Jesus does not tell us that things will soon get better. In fact, he tells us quite the opposite. Life is likely to get a lot tougher and the world a lot darker before we see any signs of the dawn. But Jesus goes on to say that the turmoil we see around us is not merely death throes of the world as we know it, but birth pangs of a new creation. I have it on good authority that giving birth is a painful process. Yet as intense as the pain may be, it is not senseless pain, meaningless pain, pain that goes on forever without relief. It is pain that ends in life and not death. Such is the pain of the universe as it struggles to be born anew. Such is the pain of God who labors with this embryonic kingdom soon to be born. Yes, it's dark out there. But God is at work in the darkness and, in fact, God does God's best work in the dark.
Why should we believe all of this? Because one dark night the seed of hope was sown in the darkness of a drafty old stable. The Word of hope became flesh and dwelt among us. Now hope is inextricably bound up with every fiber of our being.
Nothing can destroy that hope. God demonstrated the indestructibility of hope by raising Jesus from death. If that had not happened, we wouldn't have a thing to talk about. But if you believe the resurrection, hopelessness is not an option. If Jesus really is the first fruit of the new creation, then the reign of God swallows up our pain, our fear and our violence just as surely as dawn chases away the darkness. We dare to hope even under this shadow of encroaching darkness because Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.