First Reading Jeremiah 33:14-16
Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Gospel Reading Luke 21:25-36
Sermon “Hope Filled Waiting”
Welcome to the season of Advent. This is the season of waiting and preparation. Advent means “He is Coming!” So we wait, but our waiting is not in idleness, nor in despair. Our waiting is filled with preparation and hope. We prepare our hearts to once again experience the marvel of the coming of Emmanuel – God with us. We yearn in hope for the day when he will come again in power to restore this earth to its created splendor and rule with justice and peace.
When it comes to eager waiting, it’s hard to beat the ideal illustration that is often snoring at my feet or out laying in the winter sun in the yard. Yep, my dog Taffy. You see, every day, when it gets close to 4:00pm, a formerly snoozing dog’s attention begins to fix on two things – an afternoon walk in the nearby park and of course dinner to follow! It doesn’t matter that some days we don’t go, whether because I’m busy or the weather is poor, or just plain too lazy. She makes it very clear that she is quite hopeful and eager about it.
When the afternoon is starting to dim, the formerly sleeping dog stirs, and begins to get active. Often she will come over to my chair and sit quietly – just staring at me. If that doesn’t seem to work, she starts to whine and pace around – sometimes she just stands right in front and gives one soft bark. If I tell her no, not yet, she will usually settle down, but if I stand up and get my coat, Oh boy! She knows the signs and she is ready to go. Every day – same routine, sometimes successful, sometimes not, but always hopeful, and about a half an hour early. She never gives up.
This is the first Sunday of Advent, the first Sunday of the Christian liturgical year. On this first of 4 Sunday’s before Christmas, we focus on Hope and it’s close cousin – expectant waiting. It is said that “Human beings can live for forty days without food, four days without water, and four minutes without air. But we cannot live for four seconds without hope.”
Human look for hope, like moths seek after light. It’s intrinsic to who we are. Just look at what has been going on the last couple of years now regarding the pandemic. If someone claims a cure, be it vitamins, repurposed drugs, new drugs, vaccines, we all check it out quite eagerly. Sometimes our hope is well founded, other times, it turns out not to be. Still, we are drawn to hope. Neuroscientists, argue that hope is so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our brains, arguing it can be the difference between living a healthier life versus one trapped by despair. Studies show hopeful college kids get higher GPA’s and are more likely to graduate. Hopeful athletes perform better on the field, cope better with injuries, and have greater mental adjustment when situations change. In one study of the elderly, those who said they felt hopeless were more than twice as likely to die during the study follow-up period than those who were more hopeful.
It’s pretty clear: hope is powerful catalytic agent. Dr. Shane Lopez, a psychologist who was regarded as the world’s leading researcher on hope, claimed that hope isn’t just an emotion but an essential life tool.
The vital question is then – why do we hope? In whom or in what do we find hope? Folks place their hopes in some pretty poor places at times. Hope that leads to truth is precious indeed. Most everybody has some sort of hope, but we who follow Christ have some pretty particular hopes and reasons that those hopes are well grounded. We hear the voice of the Prophets and the words of our Lord saying “the days are coming…” God still reigns and our salvation is near. Hope runs deep in the scriptures – it is essential to who we are as well. If you look up the word in a Bible Concordance, you can quickly see where the word “hope” is frequently used. The first place, strangely enough is in the story of Job. Remember? We visited with Job earlier this fall fro a couple of weeks. Although Job suffers greatly, for no apparent cause, at least not to him, he never gives up. He steady and fastly maintains that he will be vindicated, no matter what his well intentioned but misguided friends might say – and he was! For he placed his hope in God, I know that my redeemer lives! Even from his dire condition.
Next of course is in the Prophets. Jeremiah writes eloquently of Hope: (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Though the word itself is not used in this morning’s reading from Jeremiah, hope defines the message that is sent. Yes, things looks bleak and likely to get worse – nevertheless – the days are coming, Jeremiah writes, when God’s chosen one will come and save them. That‘s a wonderful message of hope, given in a troubled time. “The Lord, our Righteous Savior” is to come. And that hope too was not in vain. Cyrus sent them home and Jerusalem was rebuilt and at the proper time, Messiah did come. Just as they yearned and hoped for for so many years.
That’s what we also look forward to in this Advent season. Jesus has of course already come to this earth. That’s what we celebrate at Christmas time. By his holy life, death and resurrection we are freed from the power of sin and death and given the promise of eternal life. That is a powerful basis of hope. And that is not all – there is still our expectation of his return in power and glory – to restore creation and rule the earth in Peace and justice.
The final concentration of the word hope is in the Epistles of the New Testament. Paul and Peter and John use it frequently as they talk about the trials of this life compared to the love and grace of God which they know through their Savior, Jesus. Paul for instance writes (Romans 5:1-5 NIV) Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,  through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Peter Writes: (1 Peter 1:3-4 NIV)  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
So we hope for things in this world AND for things in the world to come. Some we expect to see here and now, for others, we wait – expectantly. You see, Advent is not really a countdown to Christmas and the end of the year. This is the beginning of a New year of sacred time, an opening to the mysteries of God and the certainty of God’s presence with us – Emanuel! It looks forward in Hope. Yes, it remembers past faithfulness and salvation, but as a means of assurance of more grace and providence yet to come. God has been faithful in the past, so our hope and faith for tomorrow is well grounded.
So how do hope and faith differ? Sharon Blake who speaks from a difficult past says it this way in an interesting Huffington post article: “Faith and hope are defined in the dictionary as follows; Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing or a belief not based on proof and Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation or desire. Faith says it is so now, and hope says in the future it could happen. We need both hope and faith. Perhaps we can look at hope like a stepping stone in elementary school and pure faith as graduate school tests passed.
Hebrews tells us that (Hebrews 11:1 NIV) “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith being the substance of things hoped for means that we must have a base mindset of faith in order to receive what we need from God. We have to truly know and believe that what we set our minds to believe and focus on is what will come to pass. Hope speaks of the future and faith speaks for the now in life. So once we graduate from hope to faith we will then begin to see the greater fruit of the seeds of our thought process now. We plant seeds everyday even if we think we do not. Our thoughts are our seeds of this life so what are we planting?
Hope helps us shrug off the drag of past failures and begin to live by faith. Let faith grow strong through hope and be lived out in our daily lives. It sounds like a tall order in this strange days, but dare to hope and dream of what God is yet to do. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, grasp on firmly to faith and confidence that God does all things well. God has in the past, God is at work still and God can be trusted to continue what he has begun. Faith and hope truly work together for our good.” To put it another way: Hope give us direction and motivation – faith lets us hold on and move forward.
As we begin out journey to Bethlehem again this year, and approach the manger to gaze in wonder at what God has done, let us come in gratitude for the wonderful grace we have received, be nourished by the hope of God’s glorious future and receive strength to walk in faith this day and in all the days to come.