November 29, 2009 First Sunday of Advent Hope
Hope: The word Barack Obama made famous. Hope has become a word that is particularly important to Americans lately, in the midst of a dim job outlook, tough financial times, and a grim housing market. How will it all end? What will be God’s answer? Can we have hope that things will be okay?
I went down south to clean up after Hurricane Katrina in the winter of 2006. I had never encountered such a hopeless place. We spent our days mucking out houses; shoveling out mud and personal items swollen by water. It all went out to the trash heap at the end of every front lawn. But there wasn’t even a spirit of “we’re all in this together” as there might have been if the neighborhood was full of people working side by side. The place was still deserted, minus a few brave souls and our small little group. In the afternoons, we occasionally saw a Red Cross truck moving slowly down the street and a lone person calling “food and water, food and water” through a megaphone. It was a desolate, hopeless place.
It was in New Orleans that I made a very unexpected decision: I decided to bring home a 4-week old puppy. A family in the neighborhood had a dog that had run away during the storm and now had ten wriggling, leaking puppies that slept in a dog igloo on an old towel in the garage. I’m not sure if it was the contrast of new life with the absolute hopelessness around me, but I made the very irrational decision to take home a puppy. I was living on a grad student salary, and had an irregular grad-student type of life, but Noah (named after Noah and the ark) found a place in my home. He has been my steadfast companion during graduate school, my first real job, and now my life with my new husband. Out of hopelessness came something new and unexpected.
Now, Noah is not a miracle, and, while he brings me a lot of joy, he is not God’s Almighty Answer, God’s thunderous and miraculous response to the Gulf Coast. New Orleans is still in recovery; even in the past months, residents of New Orleans have begged President Obama not to ignore their still-present needs. Things are not yet right, and things are still in some ways very hopeless for the residents. But Noah is a point of light and a sign that points to coming redemption. He embodies the message that God is with us, and that God’s presence shines through despite utter hopelessness. Things may be bleak for many Americans right now, but we can find hope in the tiny signs that God is with us, and Immanuel is coming, making a path for a new, eternal life ahead.