In Hope and Grief, Third Sunday of Advent 2023
Written by Destiny Magnett, Programs and Outreach Manager, and Taylor Issa, CMEP Outreach Intern
In Palestine/Israel, few things feel certain. In spending time there, one grows accustomed to a life that moves at the speed of the news cycle and days that often feel shadowed by grief. Even so, no matter what trials the day holds, it ends with the sky painted in the most beautiful sunset– a sign of the land’s enduring beauty and an expression of faith for a better tomorrow to come. There is much tension in a place that is both so sacred and so enmeshed in conflict. This makes it even more vital to share the truth of this place– in all of its joys, sorrows, and yearnings.
John Chapter 1:6-8 reads: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” As I have been reflecting on this year’s Advent theme, I have often considered what it means to bear witness in today’s world that is so overcome by injustice and sorrow: What can we do with this grief? How can we continue to move forward in the work of peace and justice when the world around us feels as if it is crumbling? When we feel the weight, like John, of being “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness”? (John 1:23)
Those of us working toward a peaceful and just world wholeheartedly know the importance of hope, even in the face of the most seemingly dire circumstances. Hope is born of our faithfulness. Faith is trusting God is present and just; furthermore, Faith is trusting that God, like us, is pained by wrongdoing and is a great champion of the oppressed (Isaiah 61:1, 8). Psalm 126, depicting the scene following the restoration of Zion, proclaims, “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy.” The scene is a triumphant ode to boundless joy and unwavering trust. Awash in unparalleled hope, it is a melody to guide us on our path to peace. Whether in Biblical times or today’s Israel/Palestine, the hope etched in these verses still resonates, transcending time and offering a profound lens for viewing our conflicts, aspirations, and struggles. This holy guidance toward faithful compassion becomes our sacred call in pursuit of justice.
Faith, however, need not be divorced from action. As 1 Thessalonians reminds us, we must “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (5:16-18) while we “hold fast to what is good.” (5:21).
So, in this special season of gratitude and reflection: How can we live out our prayers by sharing our testimonies with those around us? How does advocacy reflect holding fast to what we know is good? Remaining engaged in the pursuit of peace and justice is a profound and powerful expression of our faith. Like John, we must remember that we, as humankind, are not the light– but are called to bear witness to the way God’s light guides our calls, our ministries, and our convictions so that justice shines bright.
We invite you to reflect on, or even journal in response to the following questions:
- How has “grieving” been a part of your year? How have you felt the weight, like John, of being “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness”? (John 1:23)
- What does it mean for us to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (5:16-18) and “hold fast to what is good” (5:21) while allowing ourselves to feel sorrow, grief, and longing?
- “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126: 5-6)
- Pray through this verse three times, slowly, and ask God what it means in your life.
- Silently reflect on this scene as “a triumphant ode to boundless joy and unwavering trust. Awash in unparalleled hope, it is a melody to guide us on our path to peace.”
- What does this verse mean for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, some of whom are living in injustice?
About the Author: Destiny is an MTS candidate at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) focusing on Religion, Ethics, and Politics. She also holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Grinnell College. She joins CMEP in her capacity as Programs and Outreach Manager following an eight-week Middle East Fellowship where she helped to bolster and expand CMEP’s relationships on the ground in Israel/Palestine. Prior to joining CMEP, Destiny has worked in the U.S. Department of State, USAID, Search for Common Ground– Jordan, and Harvard’s Office of Religion and Public Life. In this role, she is excited to work with CMEP’s many fantastic church partners and broader networks in service of promoting a just world at peace.
About the Author: Taylor Issa is a junior at the American University in Washington, DC, studying Arabic and International Relations/Peace and Conflict Resolution. Taylor is passionate about fighting for peace and she is thrilled to work towards positive change for the Middle East with CMEP!