Thinking Anew: How our hope for the future can change the world

Patience is an important aspect of the Advent season – a time when we wait with hope

Delia Smith: ‘There were tears for a suffering world, yes, but also joy and celebration in sharing a hope for the future’.  Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

Delia Smith: ‘There were tears for a suffering world, yes, but also joy and celebration in sharing a hope for the future’. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA

 

‘Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can; seldom found in women, never in a man.” It is said that the sense of this familiar saying, if not the exact words, can be traced back as far as the 4th century. The German-born poet, novelist, and painter Hermann Hesse agreed with the sentiment: “Patience is the most difficult thing of all and is the only thing that is worth learning. All nature, all growth, all peace, everything that flowers and is beautiful in the world depends on patience, requires time, silence, trust, and faith in long-term processes which far exceed any single lifetime.”

Patience is an important aspect of the Advent season – a time when we are encouraged to wait, to renew our understanding of what it is we really celebrate at Christmas. Tomorrow’s readings remind us of the importance of looking not only back to the birth of Jesus, but forward to the future. In picture language the prophet Isaiah anticipates a blossoming desert and the end of drought; a wilderness that is no longer a treacherous journey, but a land of promise. The psalmist looks to the time when God’s rule will guarantee tangible justice for those who are exploited and equity for the orphan and widow; the downtrodden, the stranger among us and the hungry will be adequately provided for and treated with respect.

The reading from the epistle of James, however, reminds us that this is part of a long process, a yet to be future. We must learn to be patient like the farmer waiting on the harvest: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.”

But, and we must be honest about this, waiting patiently for what seems such a far off vision is of little comfort for those who desperately need reassurance now. For those who mourn, Isaiah’s “mountain of the Lord” seems a long way from the dark valley they inhabit every day. For those who suffer because of their gender or their sexuality or their race, they may feel that justice is not something they can afford to wait for, because while they wait, they are persecuted, oppressed, broken by an unjust world. And for those affected by climate change, relief seems impossible while politicians argue, waters rise, and storms destroy their lands and homes.

But as the Archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in a recent broadcast this is not intended to be an empty waiting: “Christian waiting and looking forward is never just a passive thing. It is about allowing our hope for the future to change the world in which we live. It is about being open to the challenge of the Spirit, recognising where God is already at work so we can join in. We are not just imagining the future. We have a God who works today in our lives to make this future a reality and calls us to join in with him.”

In this abstract from her book, A Journey into God, Delia Smith gives an example of what the archbishop is saying: “One of the most tangible visions, if you like, of hope for the future struck me on the day of the Live Aid concert in 1985 . . . It was suddenly possible to have a perception of the world as a community of love, not least among the young. For one day nations were united in the fight against famine. It wasn’t the money raised that was so impressive, but the few precious moments of universal communion in one common purpose, with no motivation other than goodness and generosity. There were tears for a suffering world, yes, but also joy and celebration in sharing a hope for the future . . . ‘When love reigns there will be no more famine, no more mourning, no more sadness. The world of the past has gone’.”

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