The night of the 2016 election I stayed up until early in the morning hoping that the voting returns would change. To turn off the TV would amount to admitting that it was over, that there was nothing left to hope for. Inauguration Day felt worse. As the Obamas left and the Trumps moved into the White House, the nightmare became real. I didn’t know what to hope for.
There have been so many endings in the last few years, capped by RBG’s death and the sight of Republicans racing not to enact financial relief for those impoverished by Covid, but to tilt the Supreme Court farther to the right. As we await the results of the next election, trustworthy public servants warn that if Trump wins, it could mean the end of our democracy.
Our hopes have been disappointed, more than once. We’re not sure if we can or should hope again. The times seem apocalyptic. Darkness rises. Things break down. Endings loom. Even the lectionary readings are on tone — apocalyptic — as they always are on the last few Sundays before Advent.
The first reading (Deuteronomy) tells the story of the death of Moses — the one who led the people out of slavery and into a coherent community. For most, he had been the leader since before they were born.
The second reading, (1 Thessalonians), tells of Paul’s decision to hope again despite how badly his ministry at Philippi had gone. And in Matthew, Jesus is having a last conversation with the Pharisees. In a day or two the Passover festival will begin. It will be a catastrophic time for Jesus.
Sometimes endings have hope built into them, like the proverbial door which closes, freeing our attention to find the open window. Perhaps those who mourned Moses saw his successor, Joshua, as an open window and cause for renewed hope.
But sometimes we see an end coming and there is no window in sight.
I have never believed that Jesus and the Pharisees were enemies. They were fellow believers who, like Jesus, knew the Law and the Prophets. Like Jesus, they knew that the times were treacherous and there were no easy answers as to how faithful people should live. Knowing that a difficult Passover week was coming for the Pharisees as well as for himself, Jesus first encouraged them to stay focused on what they knew to be the basics.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then he told them to keep hoping. If it started to look like all doors were closing and that there were no open windows, decide to look again, perhaps in a different place. If the promise of a “messiah” is what holds your hope, look outside the box of “Son of David.”
In difficult and dark times when all we can see is trouble and closed doors, we need to be prepared to travel light, morally. We need to know what matters. What principles are dearest and what commitments are non-negotiable. And then, we need to decide to keep hoping.
 The apocalyptic theme climaxes on Advent 1, after which the gospel readings turn towards the birth of Jesus, telling the stories of John the Baptist and Mary.