Until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of an “atmospheric river,” but by now those of us who live in British Columbia have become all too familiar with the term. When one of those rivers in the sky released its torrent, we experienced such massive flooding and mudslides that my city and our province were thrown into a state of emergency.
It’s not over yet, as another atmospheric river is upon us, and another is forecast this week. New evacuation orders have been issued. Highways that were open briefly are now closed again, including the major highway that links my city with the rest of the province. This time emergency workers are building a “Tiger Dam” across the highway to hold back the flood waters of the Sumas River—a barrier that will be over a metre tall, made of water-filled tubes anchored to the pavement.
People have been asking, “Are you safe?” Yes, we’re safe in our home, but reeling from the shock of this disaster, and deeply grieving for those most directly affected by the flooding. Lives have been lost. Homes and farms have been destroyed. Despair is at the door.
People have been asking, “What can we do?” Some have already been hard at work helping to sandbag, moving farm animals to safety, helping with clean up, donating to the Red Cross, and other agencies. In response, last week I wrote What Can Churches Do to Respond to Disaster?, and since then I’ve learned that Mennonite Disaster Service Canada and Samaritan’s Purse Canada are both mobilizing volunteers to help.
In the face of this disaster—on top of the state of emergency of last summer’s heat dome and wildfires, on top of the state of emergency due to the ongoing opioid crisis, on top of the persistent COVID-19 pandemic—we are in great need of hope.
So for yesterday’s First Sunday of Advent, I called my homily “Hope Is Drawing Near.” Our designated gospel reading was Luke 21:25-36, a text filled with anguish and dire warnings. Yet in the midst of terror, Jesus offers these words of hope:
When these things begin to take place,
stand up and lift up your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.
Yes, even in the midst of disaster, the season of Advent reminds us that Jesus is coming—not as he first came into the world long ago, but as he will come again in the fullness of God’s power and glory. Our redemption is drawing near. The kingdom of God is drawing near.
Hope is drawing near.
For our hope is not based on our circumstances, whether good or bad.
Our hope is not based on ignoring the problems we face. We don’t need to bury our heads in the sand. Or try to convince ourselves that all is well when it’s clearly not. The dangers we face are terrible, but they are not permanent, and the power of God is greater.
Even with despair at the door, our hope is found in God who is present in the midst of life. We can stand in hope and lift up our heads. We can stand together and work together. We can stand in expectation. For God is still at work. Hope is drawing near.
Writing/Reflection Prompt: What do you hope for?
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