A Vision of Hope
The end is near! The world is coming to an end! And I’m not talking about the election anymore! Like a thief in the night, some will be taken and some will be left. At an unexpected hour, the Son of God will come again in all his glory to judge each and every one of you. He will separate the righteous from the unrighteous, the good from the bad. So, stay awake and be prepared! Are you scared yet? Confused? Are you looking at your bulletin thinking, hey, isn’t this the first week in Advent? Aren’t we supposed to be preparing our hearts for Christmas? Isn’t her sermon title about hope?
Most of us are having a hard-enough time trying to get our heads around the first coming of Jesus, to even begin to discuss the second coming. And why talk about this on this first week of Advent? Because the first advent, the coming of Jesus, is not complete. The risen Jesus instructs and empowers the church to continue its witness until the second coming, the second Advent. God dreams of a day of real justice and love, a day when glory outshines shadow, when joy extinguishes sorrow, when peace silences violence, when rebellion cedes to obedience – when faith becomes sight. (1) Then the Son of Man will come again. Yea, so I don’t think this second coming is happening any time soon because we’re really far off from that dream of this world, but we are told to always be prepared.
Now we know some religious groups have an exact date and time of this second coming of Christ, right?! Although it has had to be adjusted over the years. And then there are the books and shows like the “Left Behind” Series, some taken, some left to fight off the demons and try to do enough good to be chosen – pretty frightening stuff which does leave us wondering, especially if you read Revelations! Even the Apostle Paul makes it quite clear that there will be a time when we will be given new spiritual bodies, where the faithful will be vindicated and the oppressors destroyed. But this is known to God and to God alone. For unlike the days of Noah, it is not that we live in a time of wickedness and that life must be struck down because we are not living God’s ways, life is going on around us as usual with no mysterious signs or warnings of the approaching judgment, but even so we are not supposed to live in complete – what did they call it? Drunkenness and debauchery, quarreling and reveling. But we are to be prepared, awake and alert.
And like Noah before the flood, in the days of calm, Noah slowly and deliberately prepared himself so that when the floods came, he was ready. This scripture passage is a warning to us to never become so immersed in time that we forget about eternity; to never let our concern with worldly affairs, however necessary, completely distract us from remembering that there is a God, and that the issues of life and death are in God’s hands, for whenever God calls us we must be ready. And whether or not all of this apocalyptic stuff will be realized, all that the prophet Isaiah speaks of, all the Jesus speaks of with his disciples; it is here and spoken of on this Sunday, to give us a vision of hope. To help us live into that hope, to surround us with a mantle of hope, an armor of hope and peace and light.
So, on this day, as we begin the season of Advent, what do you hope for? What do you wish for? Do you wish nations would stop fighting other nations, countries would stop bombing each other? Do you wish there was harmony in our cities, in our communities? Do you hope for a day when violence against people, against cops, against children will come to an end? Do you wish there was peace in your own families? I don’t know but maybe after a Thanksgiving weekend with your family, maybe you could use an entire sermon on hope and peace in this area!
The Prophet Isaiah envisioned a new Heaven and Earth, a poetic vision of the world in the future. A world without war, where people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. For while now disputes are settled by the sword, in the latter days, the day of our Lord, they will be settled by peaceful means. This vision of weapons of war turned into agricultural tools, images of death-dealing turned into food-producing is an incredibly huge hope for the days to come. Did you know Isaiah’s words are carved into the wall across from the United Nations building? Wonder if the General Assembly ever reads those words before making decisions and thinks about a new peaceful earth?
My friends, this road we are on is long and the hill we must climb is steep, Christ will come again who knows when, so we need to prepare, so we need this to be a season of hope, so that our lives may be filled with love, our hearts with peace, and our souls with the strength of God. And then and only then may the light of God which permeates our lives, shine from our hearts to others. So maybe instead of the word preparation, maybe this should be a season of emptying. Instead of looking at Advent as a time of shopping, wrapping, baking, parties, rushing, and stress; maybe this should be a season of less, not more, of emptying. Because this is also a season of strong emotions, unrealistic expectations, incredible busyness, old and new sadness, harsh memories, and family strife. So maybe we need to empty our lives and hearts of all the clutter, all the stuff that fills our time, and center ourselves on what it most important, joy and love and the birth of the Christ child. Choosing what is most important and letting go of all the rest. That’s right, I said, let it go, or should I sing it, let it go.
So, how do we create this kind of vision of hope as we enter into another season of Advent, another season of preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ? It starts with peace and hope and love within us. So on this day, what has Steve told us, because I have pulpit rights, let me suggest to you three ways of creating peace within, love near, and hope around.
First, we need to create lasting memories. While the stuff of Christmas, the presents, the parties, the shopping, are fun; but the traditions, the memories, the sharing, is what we really cherish. Just try changing one little tradition in your home, where you eat Christmas dinner, where the tree will go, who puts the star on top, and watch how people react! The symbols, the memories are what hold families together. And that is what makes it so hard when things change, when things come to an end.
Every year my parents used to make these special Christmas tree breads. It would take them hours to make, rolling out the dough, creating these long strands they would curve and braid, putting red and green cherries on each branch, delicate and beautiful. On Christmas morning, it would be what we would nibble on as we opened presents. But my favorite part as a child would be delivering all of the extra breads on Christmas Eve to neighbors, friends, and people who had had an especially hard year. To see their faces, light up with this little token of love, made my Christmas.
As Susan B. Anthony once wrote, “Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced, stray dogs that amble in, sniff around a bit and simply never leave. Our lives are measured by these.”
So, this year maybe we should consider giving children that one gift they want and one they don’t expect, like a letter or written memory with a memento from our childhood. Maybe giving grandchildren one present they want and a book you once read to their parent along with a tape of you reading it to them. Maybe giving our parents and siblings that one gift they want and one they don’t expect like a donation made in their name to their favorite charity. Maybe we should create more memories and less stuff, beginning new or keeping old traditions of our faith.
This season, as we light the Advent candles, we need to light a candle of our own and think about those who don’t have a family to share memories with, the lonely, the grieving, those serving in the military so far from home, maybe someone right beside you. And invite someone new to your Christmas celebration, start a new tradition, (we had two friends at our Thanksgiving table who would have been alone – try it!) start a new memory, a new dream, a new vision. To begin to lift the valleys of pain and begin to smooth the rough road for others, and create peace, love and hope, all around.
Second, we need to be quiet! Seriously, we need to shut up. What did God say, “be still and know that I am God”? Every year we are all guilty of it, we easily get caught up in the constant noise, the fast pace, the 4:00 a.m. shopping sprees – did anyone really get up at 3:00 a.m. on Black Friday?! I never understood that tradition! And while singing as loud as we can with our favorite Christmas Nate King Cole CD – hope you don’t ever see me driving down the road this month – I love to sing in the car! Or watching your favorite Christmas movie – like the Griswold’s Christmas Vacation – classic! But we also need to spend a little time in silence. Some of us purposely avoid the quiet of this season, but going to a place of quietness on purpose, turning off that TV at times, is creating a place of peace and hope.
This season we need to light a candle and be alone for a while or attend something like the performance of the Messiah and just sit and listen. For solitude is the one place where we can gain freedom from the forces of society that will relentlessly mold us, constantly trying to change us. And it is in those moments, that we learn how to pray to the Prince of Peace, it is there that we may actually understand God’s vision of hope for us.
Third, we need to prepare ourselves through the power of forgiveness – In Paul’s letter to the Romans we are reminded of the greatest commandment – love your neighbor as yourself – and that involves forgiveness; first of ourselves, then others, and then by receiving the forgiveness of God. And here is how I define forgiveness; it is creating a clean and open heart. It is letting go of the power someone has over us, our feelings, our memories and setting that pain free. Letting go of that which we have done or not done and asking others to do the same. It is not saying that someone who has hurt us is now okay, what they did was okay, God will judge what that person has done to us. It is not allowing it to have a power over us and our feelings, it is allowing the free grace from God into our hearts.
This season we need to light a candle and think of that one person we need to forgive. Someone we have a hard time living with, someone who brings us pain, someone who takes away our peace, maybe ourselves. And make that call, send that note, say that prayer and forgive. Jesus states, “If when you are bringing your gift to the altar, you suddenly remember that your brother has a grievance against you, leave your gift where it is before the altar. First go and make your peace with your brother, and only then come back and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23-25)
At times, we all think, but this is only Isaiah’s dream, this is only God’s dream, it can never happen. Jesus is the one who possessed the spirit of wisdom and understanding, insight and inner strength, righteousness and justice, gentleness and forgiveness, not us! I’ve heard it said, “If we were to stop striving for this unbelievable world in which the wolf lies with the lamb, in which the nations of the world reject the use of war, if we were to stop dreaming, we would destroy the mountain itself and the great adventure of life on earth would come to an end.”
As the days grow shorter and the darkness grows, we light Advent candles and our own candles, shining in the darkness to give hope. So, amidst all the preparations of your homes, your trees, your packages, your stomachs, remember to prepare your heart as well. For lights and candles can banish the darkness of our lives with the warmth of hope; traditions and memories, even new ones – I am going to try to make those Christmas tree breads this year! – traditions and memories bring comfort and healing; forgiveness, prayer, and silence can open up our closed hearts to a celebration of God’s love come down to us.
My friends, Advent is a season of Hope, hope that can only come from the birth of our Savior and from us, God’s chosen messengers. For although there are distinctions among us, a time will come and we do not know how soon, when all distinctions will cease and we will all be joined in one place. So, this year – let go, please let go of the clutter and empty yourself, and put on the armor of light so that others may feel and know God’s love; and bring a new vision to this day, this time, a vision of hope only realized through our love of one another. In the name of our God who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, loves us, and hopes for beautiful things to shine from us.
(1) Chan, Michael. “Commentary on Isaiah 2:1-5”. RCL/Narrative.