The First Sunday of Advent | Donovan McAbee

Sunday, December 2

Psalms 111, 112, 113, 146, 147
Isaiah 1.1-9
Matthew 25.1-13
2 Peter 3.1-10

In his sonnet “Carrion Comfort,” the 19th century Catholic priest-poet Gerard Manly Hopkins pictures himself, like Jacob in the Book of Genesis, wrestling with God through the night. While the narrator’s struggle is with God, the narrator’s temptation is to despair, as the opening line of the poem reveals him steeling his nerve: “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee.” Despair is for Hopkins, “carrion comfort,” the decaying flesh of a dead animal, not fit to eat. As decaying flesh, despair is pictured as an anti-Eucharistic image, life-stealing instead of life-giving. In the throes of struggling with God and fending off his temptation to despair, the poem’s narrator fights against this negation of life, tempted to say, “I can no more,” but insisting “I can; / Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.”

Hope is one of those terms, which through overuse, has almost been evacuated of its potency. Advertisers and politicians wield it like a charm, but the abuse of a word does not necessarily mean that we should neglect it. Perhaps it just needs a little dusting off or resuscitation. In Hopkins’s poem, as in our lives, a little hope can carry us a long way. Hope strengthens the nerve and the will. Hope builds up our resolve to survive, when survival itself is all that we can manage. Hope is tenacious even when it seems hardly present at all.

In Psalm 147.10-11, part of our reading for today, we hear the Psalmist proclaim, “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of the runner; but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.” The activity of faith in our lives manifests itself in our sense of awe before God, and in our possessing hope in God’s love.

As Christians, we believe that not only does God take pleasure in those of us who hope, but that God Himself, through the person of Jesus Christ, becomes hope for us. In this season of Advent, let us, in the midst of our confusions and struggles, in the midst of our joys and heartaches, prepare ourselves to receive that strange hope into our lives—the hope embodied in the Incarnation—of God among us as one of us. Amen.

Donovan McAbee
Assistant Professor, School of Religion

To download a digital copy of the 2012 Advent Guide, put out by Belmont’s School of Religion, click here.

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