Sunday, December 1, 2013
WHERE THERE'S HOPE
Imagine that you live in a village back in the Neolithic age where the winters are extremely harsh and you don't know if you and your family will make it through to spring. Imagine the holy men and women sending out the call that a miracle would happen, but you are too hungry to believe in miracles. But you have hope, hope that your belly will soon be filled with good food and hope that the sun will warm your body once again. So you gather with the rest of the village folk on the hillside surrounding the sacred cave to wait, hopeful that there will be a sign from the gods. All night you wait feeding sticks to the bonfires to keep warm and have light. Just before dawn the holy men and women sound the ram's horn and send one special person crawl into the tiny cave to observe the miracle and report back to the rest of the village. Now there is only silence as everyone waits and hopes, waiting, waiting, waiting, hoping to see if the gods will bestow favor on their people once more. The sky grows brighter and suddenly the orb of the sun appears on the horizon, growing larger and larger, until at just the right moment, a dazzling ray of sunlight enters the small dark cave, creeps along the wall and suddenly illuminates the sacred spiral at the back. The prayers of the people have been answered once again. A great shout goes up and tears flow down gaunt cheeks. In your dark, cold winter of despair, there comes a ray of sunlit hope, and the world is right once more.
Food is brought out and the fermented wine that has sat waiting to be served until this day is passed around. You and your family eat and make merry, celebrating the return of the Sun God, who is reborn this day. They celebrate the Goddess who labored all this dark night to give birth to the Sun God. All is right in the world again because there is hope.
It is difficult even today with our modern astronomical equipment to detect the exact moment of the Winter Solstice. Our ancient ancestors had a better method using the caves and heel stones to mark that moment. I would much rather be standing out in the open watching the sun come up to experience the illumination of a sacred symbol than to sit in my office chair and find out from Google when the moment arrives. It is the sacredness of the physical experience, the anticipation of the mind, and the hope of the emotions that makes this a holy living event as it did for our ancestors. They experienced it with all their senses--this rebirth of the light.
Now imagine you are living in an age where you are afraid you will be discovered and persecuted for your beliefs. You are afraid but you are also hopeful because you have been promised by the holy men and women that the Messiah will come again. You live your life preparing and waiting for the Messiah, the great king to come and rescue all the Jews and now the Christians too and lead them to a better life. The Jews have been waiting longer than the 200 years you have and that doesn't give you much hope, but you are still hopeful because there is no other way to be. There is such longing among the people for the Messiah who will come floating on a white cloud in the sky. Is the Messiah the same as Jesus of Nazareth, whom your people call Jesus the Christ? You don't know for sure, but you do feel that ancient longing in your heart to be saved and delivered from the harsh life you live always worrying about food, always worrying if you will be the next person thrown in jail and maybe killed. But this promise of a Messiah, this promise gives you a little hope.
You can see how easy it was for the Christian church to combine the two hopes and how easy it was to change the actual birth of Jesus to mid-winter from the spring to build on that hope. A strong hope was already established in the dark of winter. It was in the middle of the 2nd century, 200 years after the birth of Jesus that this combining first occurred. It has been traced to the city of Antioch, a city founded in 293 BC in ancient Syria, on the banks of the Orontes River. Antioch grew to half a million people at its peak. Antioch is now a part of Turkey. It was established along the Spice and Silk Roads, a great merchant center. It was a city of hope, a good place for hope to grow. It had a mixed population of Pagans, Jews and Christians. Many different peoples have taken over Antioch, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, and Monguls. In 1432 there were only 300 residents living among the rubble of the once great city. In 1932 excavations began to uncover the ancient sites and excavation continues today.
The word Antioch means "withstanding" and "lasting." The Christian Apostles did much teaching and preaching in Antioch. It was a great Christian center under the Romans. On a metaphysical level, Antioch stands for the state of mind in which our ideas or our theology about the relationship between God and humans must undergo a great change, a transformation, before we can uplift and unify the whole person. This is the time when we take the spiritual ideas of what we have learned and transform them through applying them in our own lives.
200 years after Christmas first began in Antioch, the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian ruler of the Roman Empire, decreed that the celebration of Christmas would be now legal throughout the world. In 567 the Council of Tours established Advent as a time of fasting before Christmas, much as Lent is the time of fasting before Easter. The Council also set the twelve days between Christmas to Epiphany as a sacred and festive season. This is the beginning of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Advent has changed over the centuries as the Christian church has changed. More modern churches celebrate Advent as the coming of the spiritual Christ rather than just as a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Traditional churches are still looking for the Messiah to come on a white cloud. Others are waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus. Here at our Center, we celebrate Advent as a time of preparation for the Light of the Christ consciousness to be born anew within us in a more expansive and greater way. To do this we contemplate the four aspects of the Light: Hope, Joy, Love, and Peace.
As our ancient ancestors did and all our ancestors up to and including this time of us, we cultivate hope. Hope is a spiritual feeling deep inside our hearts that inspires us, works with our faith to envision a better future. A future filled with our good, with prosperity and abundance, love, joy and peace. Without hope our dreams would not be enlivened.
When we dream and envision, these are flat pictures, until we add hope. Hope is the originating feeling that adds energy to our dreams. Without energy our dreams can't move into the Universal Mind to manifest into reality. One dream that every person has at one time or other in his or her life is the dream to be united with God. It is the biggest dream we will ever have. It reminds me of Julia Roberts, who plays Tinker Bell, in the film "Hook." In the story she wants to become human so she dreams and wishes the biggest wish she has ever made and tries some pixie dust on herself. Julia Roberts does an amazing job of portraying the biggest hope that goes beyond her small limited mind and heart as a fairy to become something greater than she could ever imagine. That is the kind of big hope we are meant to have.
It is the hope of the 14 year old girl who birthed the tiny baby in that dark cave in Bethlehem, the hope that her child would grow up and become the best person he could be and more. It is the hope of every mother and father for their children. It is the hope of peace that the angels cried forth dazzling the shepherds with their light on that dark night. It is the hope of this spiritual family that peace will one day prevail. It is the hope of humankind that we will one day learn to be compassionate to every living being so we can fly out to the stars and take our place in the amazing universes beyond.
Hope does spring eternal as the old saying teaches. Even when we are feeling hope-less, we still can't help feeling hope-filled. It is a part of our creation, this hope, for we are called to be co-creators with God and I imagine that there is a lot of hope in God especially when God's children make so many interesting choices. Will we ever get it right? I am hopeful that we are learning that as more and more of humanity awakens to the great Truth.
So whatever your dreams, your greatest desires, find and nurture the hope that enlivens them. Build on that hope, make it the biggest hope you can and then go beyond it. Dream big and hope big. We are hopeful creatures, thriving on hope.
I end this lesson with a few comments by Norman Vincent Peale who taught us about hope. He said, "Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities--always see them, for they are always there." We could also say "become a hopeatarian." He also said, "Think positively about yourself, keep your thoughts and your actions clean, ask God who made you to keep on remaking you."
That is what Advent is all about. It is an opportunity for us to re-examine our thoughts and actions, to bring them to a higher spiritual level so that God can remake us again filled with the light of a greater understanding of who we are. It is a great hope for humankind that we can be remade in the greater image of the Divine.