Hard Work and Hope in Advent



The Rev. Tom Hazlewood (left) of The United Methodist Committee on Relief discusses recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy with the Rev. Joseph Ewoodzie in Massapequa, N.Y., on Long Island. Ewoodzie is disaster response coordinator for the denomination's New York Annual Conference.


By Rev. Tom Hazelwood*

Hope, struggle, fear, expectation, fulfillment: All are part of our Advent experience.

Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed this range of emotions among disaster survivors as I traveled on behalf of UMCOR to various disaster sites. In New York and New Jersey, I saw it in the eyes of Super-storm Sandy survivors, and in El Maqui de Quiles, Chile, it was in the eyes of families affected by severe and lasting drought.

There is fear and struggle as Sandy survivors claw their way forward after their homes were flooded and many of them destroyed. There is fear and struggle as Chilean families watch their livestock writhe and die because they have seen no rain in seven years.

Too much water or not enough water. In a very remarkable turn of phrase, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Roman church (8:22), says, “All of creation is groaning in labor pains until now….” All creation is longing for redemption, longing to be set free from all that binds it. The older versions of the Bible refer to this as “groaning in travail.” Travail is work, hard work, born of pain and endured because of hope. The smile on a woman’s face when her newborn is placed in her arms is one of the most wonderful things I have ever witnessed.  

We live in the midst of a creation that God has placed in our hands. We have not cared for this creation, thus the extremes of too much water and not enough water, and the travail that follows are among the results.

Yet, along with the travail, there is hope in the smile that comes with new birth. Even as the families in New York and New Jersey struggle in the aftermath of a vicious storm, hope comes in the faces of thousands of volunteers who arrive to help clean homes and recover some of what was thought lost. UMCOR is there, working with the affected annual conferences to implement a long-term recovery plan.

In El Maqui de Quiles, UMCOR is accompanying our sister agency of the Methodist Church of Chile, EMAH, listening to the affected families and seeking ways to capture the constant wind and the beautiful sun to provide solutions to a drought that shows no signs of ending. There was power in the embraces of those who regained hope simply because someone came and asked, “How can we help?”

We are not caring for creation as we know we should. But the coming of Christ and his presence among us—as one of us—give us reason to live in hope that light will shatter the darkness, that we can change this and make a difference, and that we can help bring wholeness to shattered lives.

May this Advent season be a time for bringing hope, transformation, and fulfillment into each life—yours, mine, theirs.

*The Rev. Tom Hazelwood is UMCOR’s assistant general secretary for US Disaster Response.