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AfterWords | Practicing Hope (House Church Sunday) (November 27, 2022)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Beth Nelson

It doesn’t make me special that one of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night.” I didn’t Google it, but my guess is approximately seven million musical artists have covered it on their Christmas albums, because we all love it. My favorite line (again, not special): A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices … My whole body wants to exhale with that idea. Hope is thrilling when we know the good that’s coming.

And yet. The dark underbelly of hope is that it requires waiting. Hope is for what’s on the way, not what is. As we often say around The Parish, it’s the “not yet,” rather than the now. I don’t often find the weary world rejoicing with the thrill of waiting. And certainly not at Christmas. Ask any kid how excited they are about waiting to open presents until after the family dinner, or any adult about the anticipation they feel at getting to wait in line at Macy’s or at the Post Office. We do it because we know it’s worth it—worth it for the kid to get to the Lego set, and worth it for the adult to cross one more thing off the Christmas to-do list.

Biblically, waiting is not just something we have to do until we get what we want. Waiting is part of the process of becoming what God wants us to be.
– John Ortberg

In House Churches on Sunday, we talked around the table about our experiences of God’s faithfulness. I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to see God’s back than His face, and reflecting on His activity in our lives is a beautiful way of going about that. Take a few moments now to think of a time when you saw God’s faithfulness. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your memory. Think through the timeline of that experience—how did it begin? What desire or need arose that required God’s action? How long did you have to wait? What else happened while you waited? What was it like when the time was fulfilled? Are you still waiting, perhaps? How have you seen the Lord’s faithfulness in bits and pieces along the way, if not yet in full? What changes have you seen in yourself as you’ve endured the wait?

If a personal example doesn’t readily come to mind, consider some of the Biblical ones. Use your imagination to consider what waiting might have been like for Elizabeth: waiting for a child, perhaps losing hope entirely before her miraculous late-in-life conception. Imagine Joseph as he waited to marry Mary, and the gut-punch he must have felt when he thought everything may be lost when she was found pregnant. Think of John the Baptist, born to be a prophet, knowing Jesus as his cousin and preaching a message of repentance and expectation for thirty years before Jesus was revealed as Messiah.

As you wait for whatever is “not yet” in your life right now, notice the formation God is crafting within you. Pay attention to how you wait (both in the meta sense and in the Macy’s line). What do you notice in yourself? Where do your thoughts go? How does it affect your experience of the present? How does it affect the people around you? Once again, invite the Holy Spirit to guide your examination. Listen to the whisper of God’s voice. He is ever encouraging, patient, and gentle, never condemning or shaming. Welcome His presence, and expect to find Him very near in your waiting. Don’t be afraid to ask Him for a thrill of hope. Even at the Post Office.

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