Advent 1: Hope

Rows of apple trees in bloom.
Apple orchard in bloom

Hope is a powerful drug. Hope is not wishing, dreaming, or crossing your fingers that something could happen. It is based on knowledge of reality, of patterns from the past.

When I saw this apple orchard one April, I had to stop and take pictures. After I pulled over on the side of the narrow country road, I stood in the unmown grass and listened. There was a hum, a soft murmur. What looked like a lonely place was actually very busy! I watched for a moment or two, savoring the quiet, the breeze, and the bees hard at work collecting pollen and nectar.

I wondered how these old trees would do at harvest time. Would they have a good crop this year? In spring, an orchard is a place of anticipation. Of unfulfilled expectations. Yes. Of hope!

It would be months before these blossoms would turn into apples. In that time of growth and change, the orchard’s owners could only wait as the bees pollinated, the weather cooperated, and the fruit began to grow and ripen.

Years of experience taught the orchard workers that much depended on the changing of seasons, on the right mix of rainy days and sunshine. The trees were tended, branches braced as they became laden with fruit. The workers sprayed for pests and diseases, and trimmed back damaged branches. Mostly, they waited.

I happened to drive back down this same road to visit a hospice patient during the harvest. The orchard was full of human-made sounds. A choreographed team of pickers collected the apples and put them in crates pulled behind a tractor.

What was hoped for came to pass. Despite storms and diseases and pests, the turning of seasons and time resulted in the harvest!

In the Christian tradition, the immediate period before Christmas is known as Advent. Advent means “arrival” or “coming.” The concept traces back to Bishop Perpetuus of Tour in about 560 C.E. The Church chose to celebrate Christmas alongside the decidedly nonreligious observance of Yuletide. The Bishop added religious symbolism and devotion for the faithful, some would say co-opting the season. These traditions continue in our churches today.

The first week of Advent focuses on the theme of Hope. The Hope of the promised Messiah. The arrival of the Christ Child came after centuries of faithful ones praying and waiting. The first candle on the Advent Wreath, the Hope candle, reminds us of the prophets’ words of chastisement, anticipation, and promise. Hope based on the true nature of God does not disappoint. Ever.

Hope while we wait… that is the quiet prayer of students waiting for a graded test, every cancer patient, every pregnancy, every unanswered question. Hope and waiting go hand in hand. The Psalmist wrote with confidence in the goodness and graciousness of the Divine in every situation. We hope in God, who will fulfill the prophecies of the ancients.

The eyes of all wait upon Thee, and Thou gives them their meat (or apples) in due season… (These words are from Psalm 145, and are part of the text of one of my favorite Advent anthems.)

Blessed be.

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