Every year, as Advent draws closer, my yearning for the Advent/Christmas message and meaning intensifies.
Since last we gathered with the shepherds in Bethlehem, listened to the angel choirs, and marveled at the child in Mary's arms, much has happened to us. Not all of it has been pleasant.
Tragedy has come from nature and of human origin too. Dreams have been deferred, if not shattered, by economic whirlwinds. The guns of war are silenced only by our blocking out their long running fusillades.
There is never a time when the hope of the Advent season is not relevant for us, but this year it is a season that seems to be coming just in time. This year I almost feel like a castaway clinging to the last piece of wreckage in hope, almost vain hope, of rescue.
But then it comes. The familiar texts are dusted off. The focus begins to shift.
This year Psalm 80 calls us to our first Advent worship. It holds a verse repeated three times: "God, bring us back, let your face shine on us and we will be safe."
We are reminded that our salvation will not come from our work or our ways. The travails of markets and the trumpeting of nations will not redeem us.
There is hope because we are not our only hope. There is God. And God is ready to welcome us again.
The light that even now begins to pierce its way through the darkness of our despair is the face of God again visible to our hearts and in our minds.
This is no ordinary hope. It is not founded on just getting strength to go out and face the world all over again. It is a call to hear the proclamation of God's alternative to our reality.
Mary sings about it. Carols proclaim it. The way to our salvation is to embrace the world of God's alternative imagination.
That world is built on hope, not on fear.
It is defined by courageous compassion and joyful justice. It is the Good News of God's love for all creation.
So, over the next few weeks, as we renew the rituals and read again the great texts of Jesus' nativity, my prayers will be with you. My hopes will be restored with yours.
May this be a season when you let God bring you back, back to the hope and promise of a just and peaceful world, the only world in which we will ever be truly safe.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!
The Rev. Stephen Sterner is the UCC's interim executive minister for Local Church Ministries and a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.