I love to play Scrabble. There’s just something exciting to me about the possibility of the words to be found, the anticipation as I watch what my companion spells out and discovering how I can build on that, and the revealing of the layout of all the words in an interconnected pattern created by our minds working in concert. Of course, my husband, the competitive one of us, gets really excited when he gets more points than me.
I’m a fan of words. My undergrad senior paper was about the 50 or so words that remain in use in the English language that were spoken by the first European tribes to settle Britain. (I can sense how excited you are to hear more about and perhaps even read such a paper but I’m going to have to save that for another time. Don’t be too disappointed.)
The writer of Genesis tells us that God spoke all of creation into existence.
In telling his version of the Gospel Story, John says, “In the beginning was the Word.”
One of my favorite descriptions of God’s use of language is from Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, who says that as he and his team mapped out the human genome in the letter sequences used to denote DNA, he saw the language with which God spoke us into being1.
Words matter. The words we choose in life can build and create beauty. They can heal and repair. And they can cause great damage, tear down, and destroy. Our words are so very powerful and yet words are commonplace and ordinary so we often forget how much power they have.
Each week in Advent, we focus on one of four theme words and this week’s word is HOPE. This is one of the words I think we use so casually that the deeper meaning is overlooked. It’s become merely a synonym for “I want”.
The deeper meaning of the word, and how it is used in scripture, is to trust that things will turn out a certain way.
Tikva, literally translated from Hebrew as a cord or attachment and figuratively as an expectation, is the word we translate into the English hope. The first use of it in scripture is in the telling of the story of Ruth, Jesus’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-I-don’t-know-how-many-actually-but-you-get-the-idea-great grandmother. When Naomi is in despair and tries to send her daughters-in-law away, she sees no hope, no reason to trust that good will come of their situation, no reason to remain attached to each other. But Ruth found hope. She could see what Naomi could no longer see, that in their love for each other, God would protect and provide for them.
God’s promises often interrupt our despair as they did Naomi’s. When we reach a point of despair (defined as the complete loss of hope) the people around us can remind us that God’s light is still on the horizon.
So many of us are in despair after this year we’ve had and with the need to stay home and physical distance from those we love it is more challenging to keep pointing each other toward God. My faith isn’t “all about me and God” it is about God and all of us. In response to Naomi’s urging to leave her, Ruth says, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16 NRSV)
Ruth had no idea what was in store for them as they returned to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem but she believed, she trusted, she had HOPE in the God whom she had come to know through Naomi.
Ruth knew that going “back to normal” wasn’t an option and that maintaining the hope in God meant going forward. She knew she and Naomi couldn’t even begin to imagine the fulfillment of God’s promises ahead if they were stuck in the past.
Hope is knowing that even in the darkest of times – losing loved ones to a disease that we could control if only we all worked together, losing a job and a home, not knowing what is next – in whatever the circumstances in which we find ourselves, God is with us and is true to God’s promises. Although God’s plan may not be what we envision for our future (or even just tomorrow) our HOPE lies in the wisdom that God’s way of love can make all situations better, here and now, on earth as it is in heaven.
When you can’t remember how to HOPE, when you struggle to find even a glimmer of God’s light, let me know and I’ll remind you. And when I can’t remember, I’ll call on you as well. Perhaps we can figure out how to play Scrabble online, or just talk and really listen to each other.
Together with God’s help we continue on this journey speaking love and compassion into the darkness so the light of heaven shines for all of us.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NRSV)
1I highly recommend The Language of God by Dr. Francis Collins as well as the website biologos.org