This sermon was proclaimed at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Nov. 28, 2021, Advent 1 Year C. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 1-10
Luke 21: 25-36
Young friends message: Ok I want you to right where you are crouch down like this (show them how to get small where they can’t lift their heads very well or see much, particularly in the pews) and tell me what you see: Accept all answers. Ok, now, stand up and tell me what you see: accept all answers. In what position could you see more? Standing up! You can lift your head better, turn around, etc. Which for you was more comforting when you could see more or less? Why? Yep, sometimes that can go either way, sometimes we’re happy seeing less, knowing less and not worrying about as much. And sometimes we feel comforted seeing the whole landscape, seeing everything that is around us. This is the first week in Advent for the Church, every Christian church everywhere is starting a new liturgical year today. Sort of like New Years for the Church. Advent means “an arrival” and we are waiting both for the arrival of Christmas, when we celebrate Jesus’ birth, but we are also waiting for the full arrival of God’s kingdom. We have a good idea of what Christmas day will look like for each of us, probably going to church, presents, family, a meal together, but we don’t know what the arrival of God’s kingdom will look like and so people try and guess. People will try and scare us that God’s kingdom coming WILL be scary, and want us to be afraid so that we crouch down and hide. But Jesus says, don’t be scared. Stand up! See it all! Don’t hide from something because it might look scary or new. Even when we’re scared, or confused, or unsure, Jesus words of love, mercy, and hope never leave us, or as Jesus says “my words will not pass away.” Scary situations end, and new experiences become known, but God’s love and presence with us never ends and that gives us something called “hope” which is what we think about on the first Sunday of the Church year. I thought of an acronym for HOPE: Holding Onto Promises Expectantly. Hope lets us stand up and see God’s work even when we’re scared. Hope is isn’t making a wish, hope is continuing to look for God and share God’s love even when we don’t understand the world around us. God promises to hold us, to never let us go, and it’s in that promise that we can live in hope. So whenever you see signs of hope, like new leaves on a tree, or a baby animal or baby human, that is God’s hope holding on to you. We’re going to talk about this more.
HOPE-it’s a four-letter word that is tossed around almost as much as the word LOVE in our society with as little understanding of what it means. Hope is often confused with wishes, or naivety. Hope is different than either of those concepts however, as hope, like love, is active. Hope isn’t passively sitting around waiting for circumstances to change, not saccharine sentimentalism, no, hope moves us to be part of the force that will change circumstances. Hope is vision and action melded together in a way that can be a powerful catalyst for transformation if we allow it to be. Loss of hope is devastating and many of us have witnessed someone who has lost hope. When hope is absent, it’s as if we curl in on ourselves like when we crouched down a minute ago. Losing hope goes along with losing vision, losing perspective, losing connection. While I am not necessarily an optimistic person, I want to always remain a hopeful one. I hope to keep seeing the world how it really is while also being able to imagine how the world COULD be when we proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. And I know that some do not share this hopefulness. There have been a couple of stories lately about the rise of young adults saying that they do not want to have children at all. The reasons range from lack of financial abilities to the belief that the world is not progressing for the better and they don’t want to bring a child into a dystopian future. Essentially, there is a lack of hope that anything will transform for the better. I don’t want to critique this worldview, as I do understand it, I really do, and I can’t adhere to it either. I believe that this is where our message as followers of Jesus matters immensely in our world today, and we have an obligation and a duty to speak hope into a world that seems to be leaning into hopelessness.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of HOPE and hear these passages from Jeremiah, Psalm 25 and Luke and wonder how they help us to speak hope: the Holding Onto Promises Expectantly, into the world, when it seems what is reinforced is calamity, fear and confusion. We need to take a step back and see the forest for the trees, see the big picture, which hope helps us to do. In Jeremiah, we hear what God will do: cause new life to spring up from a dead branch. Life where none existed. In Psalm 25 that we will read after the sermon (spoiler alert), it’s a prayer of God’s steadfastness, love and covenant, which means promises, to hold on to us no matter what. Jesus in Luke 21 recalls the promise that when everything that we know, trust and think is certain, passes away, or dies, God’s word, God’s presence, will not. God’s presence holds us in hope, that God’s kingdom will prevail and God’s love will flow. So don’t bury your heads, stand up, lift your heads, and see the signs of hope and share them. Lifting our heads, our hearts, our lives in prayer are one way that we hold onto promised expectations of new life, that it won’t always be this way, and we are called to be part of the transformation. Jesus shows us this hope in action: feeding the hungry, being in community with the outcast, the lowly and the people whom society declared worthless, turning over tables of exploitation. Jesus’ life was one of hope, hope that didn’t stay still but went from community to community actively proclaiming that God’s hope is real, and holds us, even in suffering and death. God holds on to us, God’s loving grip on us can’t be shaken, and so we are freed to live and act on this hope, we aren’t trapped by the hopelessness of the world, but we lift our heads and clearly see the world how it is and work to bring the transformational reality of God’s kingdom to creation. This is our redemption, our healing, what we look up to see: God holding out all hope and expectation that we are being transformed in this waiting time for the kingdom to fully come and that we hold out all hope that God will keep God’s promises for abundant life to come now, for healing mercy to come now, and for unending love to come now. We stand in the promises of God, that this transformation will come upon all who live on the face of the earth. We stand in this hope, we stand before the love of Jesus. For we can do no other. Amen.