December 3, 2018
“Hope in Things to Come” ~ Sermon for December 2, 2018
Our New Testament reading this morning takes us to Luke’s gospel as we begin the season of Advent.
These verses project an apocalyptic vision of cosmic distress that will confuse the Gentiles and usher in the Presence of God.
We are reminded that the early followers of Christ lived in perpetual hope that Christ would come again to live among them.
We, too, begin our season of anticipation – waiting for the arrival of the Christ child to remind us that the Reign of God is near.
Hear now a reading from the gospel of Luke 21:25-36.
Here ends the readingof God’s holy word. May God add to our hearing and understanding, God’s blessings.
Please pray with me.
O God of all the prophets, you herald the coming of the Son of Man by wondrous signs in the heavens and on the earth.
Guard our hearts from despair so that we, in the company of the faithful and by the power of your Holy Spirit, may be found ready to raise our heads at the coming near of our redemption, the day of Jesus Christ.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Hope, anticipation, arrival.
These words play around in my head as our Advent season begins.
They seem to have a powerful resonance this year as I plan my own next steps;
as the church envisions its future;
and particularly as we watch the people at our country’s borders trying to ‘arrive’ at a place that will realize the hopes they have carried for thousands of miles.
It is a human trait that sustains us in times of despair.
Both of my grandfathers came to this country through Ellis Island in the early part of the 20thcentury.
They were young men, under twenty years old, when they embarked on a journey that would change their life.
Neither one had anything.
No money, no job, little family…just hope.
My paternal grandfather worked his entire adult life as a barber in Darien, Connecticut. At age 80 he lost his legs to diabetes – perhaps from standing so many hours a day for so many years.
My maternal grandfather settled first in New Canaan, CT commuting each day to a silver plating factory in Stamford.
He stood for eight hours a day, dipping dishes, cups and candlesticks into a vat of silver plate.
There was little ventilation and at age 75 he succumbed to throat cancer, no doubt exacerbated by breathing those fumes for fifty years.
Both of my grandfathers worked hard, raised families, participated in the community, owned their homes, paid their debts and died in peace.
I suspect that neither of my grandfathers would be allowed across our borders today.
What about your grandfathers?
We are a country of immigrants.
Even those who claim lineage back to the Mayflower must acknowledge that those early settlers were immigrants seeking religious freedom in this land.
Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth describes the family’s exodus from Bethlehem to Egypt where they fled to avoid Herod’s persecution.
They lived in that land, which was not their own, until Herod died, nearly four years. Rather than returning to Israel, the land of their origin, they settled in Nazareth to avoid persecution from Herod’s son.
The word “Advent” means “arrival”, and in the next few weeks, we will be reminded to recognize the arrival of Christ among us.
This season is both a preparation for Christmas – the celebration of the incarnation – and a reflection on the consummation of all things.
This first Sunday in Advent always focuses on what we now call the return of Christ.
This is to remind us that our world is going somewhere.
There is a purpose, a direction and a meaning to the created order, and God is at work to fulfil that purpose – to bring all things into wholeness and unity in Christ.
The Christmas celebration, then, is not a “stand-alone” event.
The incarnation can only really be understood in terms of God’s saving purpose for all creation.
The key word for the Advent season is “watch.”
I would add ‘hope’ to that.
God’s Presence is not just something we wait for, it is a living with hope, with anticipation.
Henri Nouwen tells us:
“Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.”
The season of Advent calls us to remember the God who comes to us – past, present, and future.
In the light of God’s eternal presence, we cannot help but reflect on our own priorities.
The mark of Christ’s disciples is our love, faithfulness, righteousness, justice, and peace.
These are values that last and that have universal value.
But, we can only live these values when we trust in, and take notice of, the signs of God’s Presence working in our time and space.
Advent calls us to be people of this kind of awareness, recognizing the signs of God’s presence that are already visible in our world – in places of peace, restoration, and sacrificial service – and calling out the signs of God’s presence in other places – places of need, violence, and self-interest.
This means that we cannot avoid making a commitment, as the Psalmist does, to follow God’s ways.
It means that we cannot avoid living with faith in the principles and the unseen reality of God’s Presence, as Jeremiah calls God’s people to do.
It means that we have to keep encouraging and strengthening one another providing hope to the hopeless.
We need the Advent hope to keep us from cynicism, despair and expediency.
Advent reminds us that in the midst of our daily struggles and victories, there is another reality at work, one that, if we remain aware and connected to it, will fill every detail of our lives with greater meaning & purpose.
One writer characterized it this way: “As we enter this season, we are called to watch, to wait, to hope, and to look for the signs of God’s presence around us, and then to co-operate with those signs, calling them into the light, and offering our love and strength to make God’s presence even more visible in our families, churches, and communities.
It means constantly seeking for God’s grace, strength, guidance, and love to empower us to stay faithful.
It means supporting and strengthening one another in the community of faith.
And it means keeping our hearts faithful and pure as we watch for the constant signs of God’s coming within our daily routines.”
I imagine that the people waiting at our borders are trying with all their might to maintain some glimmer of hope for a new life.
I imagine that my grandfathers, waiting in line at Ellis Island, nurtured a kernel of hope for a brighter future, perhaps they prayed.
I imagine that Mary and Joseph, fleeing for their lives with their newborn baby, kept hope alive by remembering God’s promises to them.
My friends, we cannot control the future but we can wait in holy expectation for our futures to unfold.
We can trust in God to help us discern our paths.
Don’t ever forget that you belong to a people of HOPE!
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God, grant us the grace, we pray to always have hope in our hearts.
Help us to believe in the goodness of all people.
Teach us to trust.
Nurture our faith that we might learn to depend on you and you alone.
Oh God, the world is a tumultuous place and we need your steadying hand to guide us and guard us.
Here our prayers this day for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who have no hope, we pray that your holy spirit might brighten their lives.
Hear us now as we turn to you in the sacred silence of this Meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts….
Jesus taught them to pray in these words….Our Father