Leonard Cohen wrote, “I don’t consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin.”
As I felt the driving wind and rain against my face this morning when I walked outside I recalled the words of the great Canadian poet. It has rained so much here of late that most of us feel a little soaked to the skin.
This all got me to thinking about Hope/Optimism/Advent/Pessimism/Psalms.
The truth be told, many of us are pessimists. This day of rain and wind serve to remind us of how much rain has fallen, not of the sunshine that has warmed us in the midst of our summer days. We forget that sometimes we need to be soaked to the skin to fully appreciate the nature of being warm and dry. Another great line of Leonard Cohen is found in the song the Anthem – “Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Somewhere across the windswept, rain-soaked sky that I look into is a ray of light. It may be dim, but it serves as a reminded to me that the sun will shine, that the sun has not vanished, that the live-giving power of the Son is still there despite the fact that it obscured at the moment with a grey darkness….wait …. did I type Son instead of Sun? — oops typo I guess…or is it?
Is it Optimism that we need to embrace then? In Bread for the Journey Henri Nouwen writes about living with hope. “Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things—the weather, human relationship, the economy, the political situation, and so on—will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfil God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands. All the great spiritual leaders in history were people of hope. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Mary, Jesus, Rumi, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day all lived with a promise in their hearts that guided them toward the future without the need to know exactly what it would look like. Let’s live with hope.”
Advent is a time in our Christian year when we implored to live in hope. We are reminded in word and sacrament that we are a people who have received Hope in the form of Jesus and yet we live in expectation, and waiting, and hope for the time when God will fulfill the promises of the covenant. On the first Sunday of Advent we heard Psalm 80. It is a Communal lament. The psalmist recalls the time of God’s goodness. The psalmist is calling out to God who is shepherd, king, and above all Gardener; a Loving Gardener who has planted the people and allowed them to grow as a people into a strong and proud people. Having recalled those images of God the psalmist has the courage to call out to the Great Gardener and remind God that in this very moment the people feel abandoned and under attack.
8You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. 9You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. 10The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; 11it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River. 12Why then have you broken down its walls, so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit? 13The boar from the forest ravages it, and all that move in the field feed on it. 14Turn again, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, 15the stock that your right hand planted. 16They have burned it with fire, they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your countenance. 17But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself.18Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. 19Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
The psalmist is one of those folks that Nouwen speaks of. The psalmist is a spiritual leader of hope. The psalmist never fails to call to God for deliverance and rescue feeling assured that the rescue is just around the corner. On the second Sunday of Advent we will hear one of the greatest blessings in all of Scripture. In Psalm 85 we hear from the psalmist a story of celebrating being delivered while at the same time sharing the lament that things are not yet as they should be. In a nutshell – that is Advent! It is a season wherein we speak with hope the Christian promise that Salvation came to us in the form of Jesus and now we wait for Salvation to achieve its fullness. We could look at the world about us and be pessimists. We could see only rain. We could refuse to acknowledge the Light that shines through that dark and greying sky today – but as a people who follow Jesus we know that the love that he proclaimed compels us to live in hope! We are hopeful and we believe the blessing of the psalmist in Psalm 85:
10Yes, His rescue is near for those who fear Him, that His glory dwell in our land.
11Kindness and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed.
12Truth from the earth will spring up, As justice from the heavens look down.
13The Lord indeed will grant bounty, And our land will grant its yield.
14Justice before Him goes, that He set His footsteps on the way. (Translation Robert Alter)
You see we are soaked to the skin. We have been saturated in the waters of baptism. That soaking has caused us to wade into waters that are often tumultuous. Following Jesus of Nazareth sometimes will cause us to ask difficult questions about why life can sometimes be so demanding, sometimes dark, and in many cases cruel. But the covenant that we share with Jesus calls us to live in hope that our work, compelled by the love of Jesus, all directs us to that time when justice and peace will kiss. We declare that God will see truth springing up from the people and justice pouring down a new rain from heaven. There will be a harvest of plentiful love, redeeming and renewing justice, and unbelievable sense of shalom.
Let us be a people of hope! We are soaked to the skin – thanks be to God!