When I need a break, I often drive to a small lake near my home and go for a walk along the pathway that winds along the shore. This week I have a lot of things on my plate, but still decided to try to make it before the sun set. I arrived at twilight, and didn’t really have time to do more than park near the dripping springs at one end of that lake, and then walk a short way onto the rough sand that lines the banks of the lake.
It didn’t take long for my attention to be drawn to the gulls taking advantage of the weirdly warm weather we’ve had this week, contending with each other out on the surface of the lake. Although gulls are terribly ungainly on land, they really are not much better on the water– nothing more than giant white corks bobbing on the waves kicked up by the squabbling of their brother and sister gulls, jealously fighting with each other over as they crowd together, probably contending for a spot on a warm water current.
It is only out in the open air that they seem at all graceful. Only when they dare to rise up into the darkening skies does it become apparent how long and graceful their wings are. Only when they dare to fling their wings out and embrace the air with every square millimeter of wing surface are they able to rise, and proclaim fully how beautiful they can be.
There have been repeated times lately that I have felt as leaden and earthbound as those gulls looked bobbing on the water. And yet, in the back of my mind, I remember words of comfort spoken from the midst of turmoil that call me to lift up my heart nonetheless—calling me not just to endurance but to rejoicing.
Surely it is God who saves me;
I will trust in God and not be afraid.
For the Lord is my stronghold
And my sure defense,
And he will be my Savior.
This Sunday we will say or sing together Canticle 9, which starts with this comforting declaration of trust in God. We will declare not just our hope but our faith that, as insignificant and fragile as we feel, that we are nonetheless God’s beloveds, known, named, and precious in the embrace of the Merciful One, in whose compassion we are surrounded and uplifted on wings of hope.
We need the words of Isaiah 12. Even though written hundreds of years ago, the vision of the cooling water of salvation being brought up to slake our burning fears and anxieties calls us to remember that trust is the bedrock of faith. Isaiah’s words remind us that we are not saved somewhere in the distant future, but saved right now through the grace of God, through trusting in God’s mercy which has made its home right here among us.
There are some who allow the anxiety and insecurity they feel to cause them to turn inward upon themselves, turning that fear into anger, division, and xenophobia. We are too prone right now to throw epithets at each other, and it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in that. We are being tempted to transfer our faith from the gospel of grace and love to the gospel of suspicion and hatred. We are being tempted to believe that we can keep ourselves safe by simply excluding entire groups of people from being among us. But that won’t work—and would be accomplished only at the expense of our call as people of faith to welcome the stranger and the refugee—people who are fleeing the same terror that has grasped swaths of our own country by the throat.
Believing in God certainly does not solve our problems or eliminate threats and enemies. But turning our backs on the helpless has never worked to keep us safe, although it has, throughout history, made us at the very least guilty bystanders rather than explicit opponents of evil. We are called to be people of hope and courage, who have Love Incarnate as our sure defense.
What if we dared to believe that, by being the best versions of ourselves rather than the worst, we could take hold of the promises of salvation? Our hope during Advent is a waiting, watchful hope for the coming savior, mighty to save, yet who will come into the world as one of the most helpless creatures of all. What if we dared to believe enough in our savior that we could welcome the helpless of today into our midst? What if we dared to believe in the radical grace we receive from God enough to embody a glimmer of that grace into the world? May we dare to believe, to cast away our fears, and rise on wings of faith to embrace with confidence the true freedom embodied in Christ.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is seminarian-intern at Church of the Good Shepherd , Town and Country, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @Scoopexplainsit. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image: Dare to rise by Leslie Scoopmire