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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Choosing Hope

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Lo, as we sang in our opening hymn, he comes with clouds descending!

Do you know what word popped into my head the minute I read this gospel earlier this week? It’s a relatively new term, perhaps you’ve heard it – doomscrolling.

It’s rather self-explanatory and is practice familiar to me, maybe some of you. A bad habit that has been growing since March. The habit of getting lost scrolling through our news feeds and social media feeds on our phones or laptops or computers or TVs. As we overindulge in bad news – the way I overindulged in pumpkin pie this past week – doom and gloom news – one story, after another, linking to another – literally feeding our own anxiety.

Taking care of our mental health these days is important. It’s something we need to keep awake to because its harder to do right now – especially in this season. Doomscrolling is getting some attention – because psychologists want us to see it because it’s not good for our health. Affirming our anxiety doesn’t alleviate it – its helps it grow. And we need to keep awake to our mental, emotional, spiritual health these days. We need, as we prayed, to put on an armor of light.

So that’s what I want to keep awake to, this morning – our spiritual health.

Despite how many years I have been doing this I always forget the texts assigned for Advent One. Advent immediately calls to mind the preaching and praying about the watching and the waiting – but I tend to forget that before we got to joy to the world and go tell it on the mountain – there is always this.

The apocalyptic reminder of the second coming. Is Jesus really wanting to terrify us? Are we really supposed to use scriptural texts to affirm the anxiety we generate with all that doomscrolling?

Or – as the scripture reminds me that hangs in my kitchen – are we to affirm our hope – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him. (Romans 15:13)

Affirming hope sounds a lot better for my spiritual health – and I believe that is true for all of us. Affirming hope is one reason we are sharing in the Holy Eucharist this morning as best we can.

Advent is not only the season before Christmas, today is also Day One of our liturgical year. We start over, today, with Mark – Year B of our three-year cycle. What better time to start again, returning to what we know – even if it’s not yet what we want it to be.

Praying through the Great Thanksgiving – Holy Eucharist – we pray through salvation history. We remind ourselves of the long arc of love that extended back well before we existed right through to our present and keeps on going - well into our future.

An eternal future – with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. I hope and pray that practice of hearing words we haven’t heard for well over half a year – the words of institution – the words of take, bless, break and share – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Hearing hope of our faith – hope made known with the birth of Jesus – hope lived now in preparation for the light of Christ to break into our hearts and homes.

And in support of that I went scrolling for some science and psychology – some practical insights on hope.

Hope is not polyanna-ish optimism. Hope doesn’t assume things will get better on it’s own. Hope – like faith – like love – is an active verb that requires we partner with it. We can feed it – just like we can feed our anxiety. We can also choose to turn our attention to that which fills us with hope – or reminds us of the hope within our hearts.

Psychologist Shane Lopez – who researches hope and wrote a book on it – “Making Hope Happen” – I haven’t read it yet – says hope is one of the most important factors in our overall mental health. Even though only about half of us – measure high in having it.

But good news – hope can be learned and it can be strengthened – utilizing our head and our heart. Dr. Lopez writes, “Hope is the golden mean between euphoria and fear. It is a feeling where transcendence meets reason and caution meets passion.”

It is more than just a mindset – it is practiced and it is grounded in reality. Hopeful accept difficulty and challenge, believing they have agency which starts with seeing and accepting what is – and creating their unique path forward.

Maybe that’s what the fig tree can teach us this morning. The one Jesus pointed to. The fig tree does not give up – but cycles through the seasons of life – willingly. And in so doing bears fruit for others to enjoy.

Here are four core beliefs, according to Lopez, of people who measure high in hope:

1. The future will be better than the present.

2. I have the power to make it so.

3. There are many paths to my goals.

4. None of them are free of obstacles.

Choosing manageable and realistic goals, hopeful people aren’t afraid to ask for help, support – and to go to people who will provide help and support – not criticism or judgment – or fuel for that anxiety.

Hopeful people remind themselves that they can live through challenging times – because they have before. That’s what the narrative of salvation history reminds us of to – and sometimes we need to be reminded of that big picture. To get perspective in worship and in life.

Hopeful people practice building people up in love.

Dr. Lopez says, “Your hope is actually dependent on your entire social network, including best friends, role models, and secondhand associates. And your hope can be shared with others.”

Like anxiety hope is contagious. We spread it through our words, our way of being, our actions – big and small. And every day life gives us ample opportunities to do so.

So – I pray that all of us keep awake these days to our mental, emotional and spiritual health. Because yeah – we really do need a little Christmas right this very minute – but until we get there – let’s take it day by day in hope. Let’s clothe ourselves – hearts and minds – with an armor of light – an armor of hope – strengthening our practices of leaning into God’s joy and peace as we trust in him – and await his coming. Amen.

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