A Message from the Dean: The Very Reverend Neil Gordon
“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight’
150 years ago, Phillips Brooks, as Episcopalian minister wrote these words as part of O little town of Bethlehem’. It was based on an earlier trip he had made to Bethlehem three years earlier following the American Civil war. Decades later we are very familiar with the with fears ‘of all the years’, perhaps especially over the past year as fear and anxiety becomes a growing feature in political discourse and in our news. We know it in our lives, we feel it looking at God’s creation, we hear about it both here and abroad daily.
Yet as the carol reminds us: ‘all the years’ also contain hope, that hope is an equal part of human existence. At a recent clergy day, our former Bishop Victoria spoke strongly to the centrality of hope in the Christian message . She told us how hope revitalizes us and renews us. It is a word we use rarely in our daily life, but in the NT it is a common word (used 129x). Paul says ‘ Now may the God of hope fill you with all peace and joy in believing that you may abound in hope’. In the gospels and the epistles hope is something which purifies us and re-positions us. We may have many strategies and plans for the future, many based on our anxieties and worries. However, it is hope that we really need to take hold of. It reminds us that we aren’t in control. It prevents us from holding onto what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. To live with this hope is to be re-vitalized. It is a gift from God and the primary hope of scripture is perhaps best expressed in Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”. Our hope is rooted in the promises of God.
To have hope is not an option for us as Christians who know and believe in the resurrection. We are called to be a resilient people who live in hope, in Christ. Paul who when he appeared before Agrippa stated ‘ I am on trial because I hoped in the promises of God’. Two millennia later Archbishop Welby speaks to this centrality of hope in Christian life when he states that “As Christians we’re least what we could be when we fear, and most what we should be when we hope.” People come to church looking for hope. To be in a place where hope is shared and spoken of. To get a glimpse of the kingdom and to have hope in God’s promises once again.
The season of Advent is filled in all four Sundays with words of hope as it calls the church to not simply wait but to wait with hope and to understand that hope and to take hold of it. This season of Advent I ask you to remember God’s promises, to become familiar with his promises and to see how God has met the fears of this world with the hope of His Son, His gospel, His resurrection and His Holy People who share their hope with the world. I pray that our dread-filled expectations of fear and anxiety will be converted into the expectant desire of hope, and that hope becomes alive in our lives to the glory of God and for the sake of the world.
The Very Reverend Neil S. Gordon