December 2, 2018 Sermon
The Wonder-full Mystery of Hope
Isaiah 11:1-10 & Luke 1:67-79
WE all recognize that hope is essential in order to thrive. What are the sources of hope? What is the source of your hope?
One of the most treasured Psalm verses comes from Psalm 121 (v. 1-2 KJV):
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.
Hope is trusting God. A Joyful Toon comic depicts two pigeons sitting on the windowsill watching a distraught man fret and fume. One pigeon turns to the other pigeon and says, “I guess God doesn’t take care of humans the way God takes care of us.”
We often use hope and wishing interchangeably. We wish you a merry Christmas. Christmas wishes are…wishes; often repeated shallow words. Wishes are no more than the power of suggestion. I wish I had a condo on a tropical island. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Hope and optimism are often erroneously interchanged, as well. Says the turtle stuck upside down, lying on his back, gazing at the sky, “Oh my God—I’m flying!” Optimism does not necessarily have any grounds for such a belief. Like wishes, optimism has no secure assurance. Is your approach to life based on wishful thinking, sheer optimism or hope based on deep seated trust in God? Do our lives echo Psalm 19: May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Each Advent offers a deeper understanding of the fulfillment of God’s promises. Hope that is built on trust in God’s love is even better than hoping to enjoy cookies and Christmas presents in this season. Each Throughout the Gospel, Luke repeats the theme of promise/fulfillment. Fulfillment of God’s promise begins in chapter one with an angel’s promise that a child will be born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, despite Elizabeth's barrenness and the couple's advanced age. Throughout Zechariah’s long life, he confidently looked for the fulfillment of God’s promise. He lived his life in faith and hope—faith in the promises that God made to his ancestors and hope that God would be faithful to fulfill them. The angel told Zechariah to name his son "John," which short for "Jehohanan" meaning: "God shows favor" or "God has been gracious."
When John was born and Zechariah regained his temporarily lost ability to speak, Zechariah sang praises to God for fulfilling those promises. Zechariah saw that this promise was being fulfilled in his son John as a messenger to “prepare the way for the Lord.”
When we think of John the Baptist, we probably think of john’s message of REPENT! Only by implication can we discover that John was proclaiming hope. IF you turn your life around to reflect God’s intent for you you will find new life. The OT prophet Malachi offers a similar promise that seems not a promise but a warning: Malachi said that the Lord’s messenger will come as a refiner’s fire and as a launderer’s soap to purge the people and make them pure.
Zechariah sees a different emphasis. Zechariah saw the fulfillment of God’s promise to redeem Israel. Zechariah proclaims that the messenger of the coming Lord will bring “knowledge of salvation … by the forgiveness of their sins” (Lk. 1:77). The messenger will effect “the dawn from on high” through the “tender mercy of our God.” John will help bring light to those who are in darkness and “straightening their feet” to walk in the way of peace (Lk. 1:78-79).
How can the messenger who will prepare the way for the Lord be both a messenger of judgment and a messenger of salvation? Because God’s judgment has always been intended to lead to salvation. John is a messenger who will “prepare the way for the Lord.” The coming Lord will set things right. That promise implies the need for correction, with the ultimate goal to create peace and freedom for “all the families of the earth” and for all creation. May we avoid the temptation to celebrate Christmas too early. May we use these four weeks of Advent to ponder where we are headed and make changes in our course, or as John the baptizer put it, "Repent," "live prepared." May we turn to trust God’s redeeming grace more fully. Advent is a time to more fully accept God’s promises which are even beyond what our mind and imagination can hope for. [Alan Brehm. First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX (adapted)]
Christians believe that God comes down to us. God graciously reaching out to us is dramatically different from most other religions in which believers have to sacrifice to the god or rise up to an elevated divine plane. Christian faith promises a divine light shining in the darkness. This divine light destroys the darkness. Christians are being transformed by God's (de-)lightful presence among us. [Brian Stoffregen, Faith Lutheran Church (adapted)]
Charlie Brown tells Lucy: “All you have to do is hold the ball. Then I can run and kick it.” Charlie Brown runs. At the last moment, Lucy pulls back the football, and she explains to the prostrate kicker: “I was afraid your shoes might be dirty, Charlie Brown. I don’t want anyone with dirty shoes kicking my new football.” He tells her: “Don’t you ever do that again! Do you want to kill me? This time, hold it tight!” Lucy holds so tightly, that when Charlie Brown kicks the ball, it doesn’t move, and he tumbles onto his back. Similar results happen about nine times in the course of the Peanuts comics. [Charles Schulz, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 1973]
Perhaps we are like Charlie Brown -- trying to kick our football. Either Charlie Brown does not learn from the past—because he’s just obtuse or pig-headed; or he keeps hoping to connect with the ball and refuses to give up on himself. If he is holding on to hope then he ALSO continues to hope that Lucy will play fair. For Christians, hope inspires us not to give up on ourselves; and Christian faith does not give up on others (even the Lucy’s in our lives) because we trust that God is caring for the world.
Christian faith has secure assurance of hope. Christian hope is not based on what we have done in the past, whether good or bad. No matter who we are, even if we are the greatest sinner on earth, we can always hope, because hope is not based on past actions. It is based on the infinite goodness and mercy of God here and now—a mercy that never changes. Whenever we feel discouraged, or feel despair over some misdeed in our life, we can reclaim hope: that God is always present to us with unconditional love.
By becoming one with us and identifying with us, Jesus brought a new kind and quality of life to this world. We can better see that with Jesus, we are beloved children of God. We celebrate the birth of a baby, and rejoice in the coming of God to us. Christ came to deliver new life. So, this Advent may we focus on our relationship with him; and may we further discover the wonderful mystery of the ongoing hope of NEW LIFE in Christ!