Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hopeful Thanks

It has long bothered me how quickly we turn the page on Thanksgiving to the Advent season. I know, in the retail business they are playing Christmas songs in the stores before Halloween, never mind Thanksgiving. But the shift from Thanksgiving to Advent is a quick one on the liturgical calendar too with the first Sunday of Advent usually (always?) falling on the Sunday after we have stuffed ourselves with turkey and dressing.

I like Thanksgiving and I would prefer that we pause just a little longer there. But, at the conclusion of our Thanksgiving Eve service on Wednesday, members of our Flower Ministry were getting out wreaths and other Advent supplies in preparation for the Hanging of Greens service to take place tomorrow. I'm not complaining about that--a lot needs to be done in order to get ready for that service. Hey, I was making my own Advent preparations well before Thanksgiving week. It just seems a bit of a shame that, to some degree, we look past Thanksgiving to Advent.

But this morning as I meditated for a few moments on the theme for tomorrow I decided that the quick shift is not all bad. On the first Sunday of Advent we light the candle of hope. Our culture's understanding of hope is often different from that of New Testament culture. When we say that we hope for something we are often referring to wishing for something that is unlikely to happen like winning the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes. New Testament hope is not like that.

The Greek word translated "hope" is about confident anticipation. It is about a wonderful future that is secure and a glorious, ongoing transformation that is already underway in believers. The hope we celebrate tomorrow is not about something that might be, but about something that is and that will be.

As I pondered all of this just after eating some leftover Thanksgiving ham, a question crossed my mind. Can hopeless people be thankful? Can thankful people be hopeless? In some ways they can when hopes and thanks are misguided. When, for example, we place our hopes in Black Friday specials and we are thankful for them we are only anchoring our hope and offering thanks to the god of consumerism.

But when our hopes and thanks are properly focused on God, then it seems to me that there is a link between thanksgiving and hope. So, on second thought, maybe its not so bad to have a day of offering thanks so close to a day of celebrating our hope.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope ..." (1 Peter 1:3, TNIV)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Before Election Day ...

It was quite a few years back that I was in some church that used a video series featuring Herschel Hobbs in a study of the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message. Hobbs served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City for many years. In one of those video installments he said that it was his practice in worship on the Sunday following a presidential election to make the following announcement: "Our nation has elected a president and he is my president."

That might be a good word on the eve of Election Day. I have heard many dire predictions from both sides of the political aisle if this or that candidate is elected. So, to paraphrase Hobbs, tomorrow our nation will elect a president and, whoever that person is, he will be my president.

I know, offically the new president will not be selected until the Electoral College meets in December, but you get the idea. I think it is good that we all, no matter our political preferences, strive for unity after this historic election is over.