Reflection 112920 (Advent 1: Hope)
Mark 13:24-37/ Isaiah 64:1-9/ 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Hope Requires Patience
As you know, I had my first eye surgery last week. I was scared and nervous about going through an eye surgery while being conscious, and a part of me did not want to go through with it. But I had my first surgery, and from the next day, my operated eye could see clearly. What a relief! Now my challenge is to keep reminding myself that this eye will take 6 weeks to heal and that I should continue being careful and administering my eye drops for this whole time. I must remind myself daily because I get impatient. Because my new eye can already see clearly, I tend to think the process is over; but if I become careless because of that, I could damage it. Six weeks seem long and frustrating. Then I need the other eye done with 6 extra weeks of recovery! Patience is a challenge to a lot of people these days because our technological advances made a lot of things in our lives quick and instant. Probably that is why a lot of people have trouble following the medical advice during this pandemic. But because a lot of us have been impatient and careless, the pandemic continues. Because a lot of us have been careless, Dr. Bonnie had to make a drastic decision last week. Patience is a challenge but necessary.
Today is the first day of Advent, the season of waiting, and we start this journey from Isaiah chapter 64. This text reminds us that we are God’s people. Sometimes we feel like God has hidden His face from us. We call out God’s name, but, sometimes, we are taught to wait patiently; some tunnels are so long that it takes a long time till we can see the light at the end of them. For the Israelites, the wait for the messiah took forever. It took about 500 years from the exile till the birth of Jesus (and Jews don’t even consider Jesus as the messiah they have been waiting for!) Now, that is a long wait, in case you think a year in a pandemic is too much to bear! The sentiment expressed in Isaiah 64 is the sentiment of the Israelites during Jesus’ time too. They felt like they were going through never-ending foreign occupations and oppression. They felt like God had turned away from them. They were tired of waiting, but a lot of them kept their hope. This is why we start Advent with a message of hope.
Then we read First Corinthians chapter 1, and on the verge of despair, we find a message of comfort and encouragement. “God will strengthen you to the end… God is faithful.” The source of hope is trust in God. If I can go through 6 weeks of being careful and using eye drops, it is because I trust the medical knowledge of the doctors. If we can persevere during this pandemic while staying home, washing hands, wearing masks, and practising social distancing, it is because we trust the medical knowledge of our doctors. We do so because we have the hope that, with our collective efforts, the pandemic will pass as soon as possible.
Therefore, we need to wait patiently and be vigilant, as we learn in today’s gospel text. Jesus taught his followers to be vigilant because they didn’t know when God’s judgement day would come. We should also be vigilant because, if we are not, we could prolong the pandemic. I should be vigilant for 6 weeks, because if I am not, I could do damage to my surgical eye. We also learned before that to be vigilant while waiting to enter God’s eternal kingdom is to live a ‘kingdom lifestyle’ of compassion and justice every day.
The message of Advent hope is that we should not become impatient and give up. Let us learn from my post-surgical eye recovery process and our pandemic experience. Because a lot of people got impatient and wanted to go back to normal, the virus kept spreading and vulnerable people keep dying. As we strive to live a kingdom lifestyle by loving, helping, and sharing, let us go through this Advent and Christmas seasons with different perspectives. We are disappointed that we cannot celebrate Advent and Christmas like other years. It might feel like a lonely Christmas because we cannot gather for celebrations like we used to. But since we are going through a difficult time, we can more easily understand what it was like to be the Israelites waiting for their messiah; let us call this a silver lining. Instead of staying disappointed at the lack of celebration, let us take this as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Christmas, what it means that Jesus came to us. Let us remember why Jesus came, lived and taught the way he did. Let us learn that the meaning of Christmas lies in the finding of joy in simple and non-material things, such as sharing our blessings with those who are less fortunate. This Christmas, my husband and I are donating to different projects instead of buying each other gifts. (I jokingly told him that he cannot afford to buy me what I want anyway, which is a baby grand piano.) We will find joy in each other’s company and in sharing humble meal tables. I invite you to spend this Advent and Christmas discovering the simple and peaceful joy in life and in sharing with our marginalized neighbours. And let us hope of a better future for all of us like the hope that Baby Jesus brought to earth.
Rev Sunny Kim
Prayer of Advent Hope
God, whose name is Hope, help us to be filled with hope this season. Amen.