- Date: Sunday, November 28, 2021
- Bible Reading: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14
- Free Resource: Alone Prayer (Kids – PK-2nd, NL)
- Unit Theme (November 28—December 19): God’s Presence Brings Life
- The Point: God provides a future full of hope.
Hope can be hard to find when the world seems dark. It takes trust to know that there is something better coming.
A Word to the Traumatized
When talking about our current situation, the word “trauma” is used frequently. We are experiencing both collective and individual trauma through this pandemic. While our personal experiences vary, there is a collective sense of loss, anxiety, and tension. People have faced fear, illness, death, isolation, economic hardship, and loss. Trauma is a communal experience, and trauma often translates to some experience of grief. While we want the world to be “normal” again, the world is a different place today. We know that the world will probably change again before we wake up tomorrow. We grieve for what we miss from the old way of doing things.
When Jeremiah’s words reach the exiles, they, too, are in the middle of trauma. They have been uprooted. The kingdom of Judah has been conquered and large numbers of Jews are deported to Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem is destroyed. Life has turned upside down. Any plans they had for their lives must be thrown out. Nothing is normal. Everything they have ever known has changed—leading to intense feelings of loss, hopelessness, and despair. They have big questions. Has God abandoned them? How can they worship now? How will they be able to carry on their traditions and lifestyle? Will they ever be allowed to go back home? Does God even care anymore?
During this pandemic, doing ministry—even just living—can feel a lot like being in exile. Finding a new rhythm takes time and a lot of energy. Ministry leaders often hear of the need to “pivot” as daily ministry and life takes a different shape. Flexibility is the name of the game, and it’s often easier said than done. Uncertainty can be exhausting.
How many times have you reshaped, rescheduled, and reworked events this past year? How many times have you talked with a parishioner who is mourning the way things used to be? How many times have you talked yourself down from the frustrations of this need to find a new normal? Have you been able to vent with colleagues about how life has changed? Have you been able to name your own feelings? How are you processing your own trauma and grief?
Glimmer of Hope
Jeremiah has words for the people in exile, instructing them to pivot in their own way. In the midst of all this change, God still makes a promise. God lays it out for the people— “I know what I have planned for you, and it’s going to be okay!” Even when things seem dark, God offers us a glimmer of hope. God will still be there with them in this new place.
Rather than sit and mourn, or put everything on hold in this new place, God says to keep living. Make the best of the situation you have. Do things in a new way. Go ahead and get married, find work, plant crops. Find new ways to worship. Know that God is with you and keep going! Be a part of the community where you find yourself.
Our challenge is not all that different from Jeremiah’s audience. We, too, need to find ways to keep living. Like the exiles, we wonder: how? How do we keep moving? What needs to change so we can move on? In a time when we could become paralyzed in grief and anxiety, how can we lean into God’s promise and know that there is hope? What do we need to let go of? What can we look forward to? What do we need from each other?
As we step into the season of Advent, we are also looking to find hope. We have the benefit of knowing the end of the story in Jesus, some knowledge and experience of “God with us.” We have something to look forward to in a way that the exiles in Babylon did not. Like the person that reads the last page of a mystery novel before they finish the story, we have a glimpse of what is coming.
We know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light seems faint or a long way off. God has restated the promise to be with us again and again through Scripture. We can watch for the signs of God’s presence during this season of waiting and hoping. We can find glimmers or joy even in this challenging time. There is hope in knowing how the story ends—with God’s promises coming to fulfillment. At some point, the trauma will end. God will “turn our mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11). Until that happens, we can keep reminding each other of God’s presence and the hope that provides.
While we wait, we can follow the advice of the prophet to the exiles—keep living. By doing all we can to adjust to this different way of life, we embody a kind of hope. We can find hope in the presence of others around us, even if that presence is physically distant. Hope comes from knowing that we aren’t alone—in both the spiritual sense and in everyday life.
Living our faith to show love and care to others not only helps us to continue to live in hope, but it brings hope to others. We can BE the hope for the world by doing what we can to love our neighbors. Offer words of comfort and encouragement where needed. Send a card. Provide support when someone is struggling. Be a listening ear to someone who is hurting. We can continue to BE the church. We can provide the hope that is so desperately needed by so many people.
I certainly don’t have an easy answer to any of the tough questions or challenges we all face. What I do know is that it’s easier to face challenges and grief when we don’t do it alone. Knowing that I don’t have to deal with my grief, anxiety, and other difficult feelings in isolation brings comfort. May we all find the support we need to live in hope.
Ideas to use in your congregation:
- Do you have spaces available for people to share their anxieties as well as their hope in this challenging time? This may be an excellent time to lift up ministries in your setting that provide listening and care.
- Knowing that Christmas is a difficult time for many people who are grieving, consider holding a “blue Christmas” service in the weeks ahead, or connect with another congregation to hold one together. Hospice facilities often have resources to help you plan these events.
- Encourage individuals and families to write messages of hope and to pray for those in your congregation who are ill, grieving, or homebound. Holiday cards, handmade pictures, and simple notes reminding them that someone is praying for them can brighten a person’s week!
- Many Advent hymns highlight the theme of hope in the midst of darkness. This can be an excellent time to look at these lyrics and consider how hymnody helps us today.
In hopeful anticipation,
Michelle Ketepa is a coach and author. She is a mother of three girls and has 25 years of professional experience in family, youth, and children’s ministries. She currently resides in Southeast Michigan and continues to serve God as a volunteer at First Presbyterian Church in Warren.
During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: Sept 12 to June 5), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the activity “Alone Prayer” from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL) curriculum which can be used with many ages in many contexts!