Open to Hope - A Meditation for the First Sunday in Advent

posted on November 24

A Meditation for the First Sunday of Advent:

Open to Hope

“Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art…”
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, v.1 (UMH 196)

In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words that translate into hope. One is yachal. It is the famous hope of Noah after the ark floated and floated and floated, hope that is the result of patience. It is the hope of Genesis 8:12 (“Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.”) You can get bored having yachal hope.  

The second Hebrew word for hope is tiqvah. It literally means “cord” and is the tense hope of Jeremiah 29:11. (God’s promise that the people would have “a future with hope”) The cord is a meaningful image because it describes the tension we have when we wait. Tiqvah hope is a real strain; imagine a taut cord.

Most years, Advent has been for me a yachal hope, with patient planning for worship services, family meals, and the arrivals of both the in-laws and Santa Claus. 2020 and 2021 have been tiqvah Advents, where I literally feel the strain of waiting for the return of our Lord.

I wonder which word Charles Wesley might have used in his famous hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” if he had been forced to translate it into Hebrew. I think it might be a tiqvah hope, a long-expected one that is a delivery from tense fears and divisive sins. Reflect upon these words, especially the ones highlighted:

Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope (tiqvah?) of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

There is an urgent invitation, a stated desire for freedom, release, rest, revival, and hope. There are many references to a collective who wait, the “us” in the hymn. There even exists a tension in the last verse between how we are living now and how we want to live.  This is a hymn about people who remember that they are in this together, who realize they long for (even in tension) the emergence of something new.

Last week I had the privilege of journeying with one of our congregations that has an amazing future opportunity. They are extremely blessed! “Hope” is a very beautiful thing for them, and what has been yachal hope (wow.) is becoming a tiqvah hope (WOW!). We began our meeting sharing what we are thankful for in this season, and what we are hopeful about as Advent approaches. It was a rich time of sharing, and even though we were all different people from all stages in life, our hopes were the same. They were all tiqvah hopes, for an urgently better world, with more peace and less division. We mutually felt the strain of the “cord” of tiqvah hope, and God led us towards building a better world even as we met that evening.

This weekend most of us will set aside a few moments for gratitude, perhaps around a table or even in front of a football game.  We will be given the opportunity to gratefully reflect on our family, our community, our nation, and our world. Perhaps most importantly, we will set aside time this Sunday to begin the Christian year once again with the First Sunday of Advent. It always, always … begins with hope. And hope, as the Hebrew language teaches us, has many facets.

I’m wishing you a tiqvah kind of Advent, even with its accompanying strain. May what only God can do with the world we live in bring you a taut kind of hope, a deeply involved kind of hope. I invite you to feel the strain of what is lacking in our world, and I tiqvah that your urgent prayer to God be … “now thy gracious kingdom bring.” 

Open to Hope,

Rev. Bev Coppley
District Superintendent 

Open to Hope