2020-11-29 Advent 1
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Advent is here once again! It’s beautiful blue hue beckons us to be hopeful and prepare! Advent has this kind of character to it, much like the season of Lent, it’s a journey towards something. Lent is the journey to the rough wooden cross. Advent is the journey to the rough wooden manger. Advent calls to mind the arriving of our Saviour as the Word made flesh at Christmas time and also our Cross-bound Messiah at Easter. And it also prepares our hearts and minds for His final return to be our judge in power and might as we talked about last Sunday.
This is our Advent-tide challenge, to keep our preparations focused on our coming King. But what normally happens in any normal year at this time? It snows, we shovel. It’s time to start shopping, we spend money. Extra trips to Regina. Friends and family coming over. We bake and clean. The boxes of decor come out of storage, we decorate. Lights need to be put up, and we risk life and limb on the icy roof and rickety ladder like Clark Griswold! We cuss and swear because we didn’t do it when it was warm outside! The family Christmas letter is penned to perfection, family photos are taken and put on Christmas cards then mailed off. We start filling up the calendar with party after party, get together after get together. The aroma of stress and short tempers begins to waft in stores and on the streets, all the while as heinous pop-music remakes of classic Christmas carols that start November 21st or earlier play relentlessly on the radio driving us more bonkers by the minute!
This is NORMALLY what we have to look forward to. However, we are keenly aware that 2020 is nuttin’ like normal! Instead we find ourselves in a mask-based corona prison that is sucking all the joy out of life! No Christmas parties. No cocktail weenies and Swedish meatball snacks. No get togethers. No merriment. Limited friends and family. Fear and anxiety at all time highs. Everywhere we look we see spiking covid numbers as our friends and family across the country begin lock down after lock down. When does it all end?!
We find ourselves feeling a little short on hope these days. But what is hope? I think we could agree that it is anticipation of a future that’s better than the present. It’s that feeling of excitement and happiness that dances the tango with a little bit of uncertainty. It’s anticipation, expectation and suspense all rolled into this experience we call hope. And hope is a major Biblical theme, so much so that it comes to dominate this first Sunday in Advent.
From the Old Testament we encounter hope in two flavours, if you will. The first is “to wait for” as in Noah’s ark when Noah and his family had to “wait for” the flood waters to recede for weeks on end. The second is also described as a waiting, but in this case with more tension and even anxiety. Like a farmer planting crops or a vineyard, all the while hoping they grow and timely rains fall. We run into this concept in the prophet Isaiah when God’s people were experiencing difficult times due to their sins. Isaiah says “I will wait for the Lord, Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in Him” (Isaiah 8:17).
All through the scriptures, this theme of waiting and hoping in the Lord is repeated. You read the Psalms and it’s nearly everywhere. Like in Psalm 130 we get this: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption” (5-7). The key distinction of Biblical hope from glass-half-full optimism is that we are waiting on someone, the Lord Himself, not just our circumstances to get better.
In fact when it comes to circumstances, they generally have been bad for God’s people over the years. People embrace a life of sin, running away from God’s Word and ways and they get conquered by Babylon or Assyria and get carted off into slavery in some foreign land. Or St. Paul while in jail, suffering for the Gospel, writes “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Slavery. Jail. None of those circumstances tend to get better quickly. There may even be zero evidence things will get better! And yet God’s people are hopeful because we wait on the Lord Himself in spite of it all.
Why is this so key for us? Because our current situation really sucks! And it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve any time soon. In fact, it will most likely get worse like it is in Manitoba with the government dictating what you can and cannot buy! It’s utter tyranny on our doorstep! Regardless, dear friends, we wait and hope in the Lord because His track record is awesome. When Israel was in slavery in Egypt, the Lord led them out with a mighty hand. When they were trapped, with the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s angry army on the other and it seemed like there was no way out and that all was lost, what did the Lord of Life do?! He split the sea in half and God’s people walked through on dry land while Pharaoh and his army did the dead man’s float!
Or when we jump to the Gospel of Christ our Lord, we see a hope-filled crowd with shouts of “Hosanna in the highest!” and palm branches waiving wildly welcoming the coming King into Jerusalem! But only a short time later, when everything was dark and sinful and covered in death, as the disciples saw their Teacher bleeding and nailed to a Roman cross suffering in agony and then dying - it was the most hopeless situation ever! And yet, three days later, O death, where is your victory? Where is your sting!? Christ was risen from the dead crushing our enemies of sin, death and the devil and giving eternal life to all who believe!
These are only two examples of God’s track record. We’d be here all day if tried to talk about all of them! But the point is, God is faithful. He is trust worthy. He saves and delivers His people. He inspires hope in the midst of the worst times! And this is what inspires hope for our future, looking forward because we have looked back to our Lord’s goodness. Psalm 39:7 says “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You.”
Several years ago there was a study performed by some researchers to see the affect hope has on those undergoing hardship. The experiment had two sets of laboratory rats, each placed in separate tubs of water. The researchers left one set in the water and found that within an hour they had all drowned. The other rats in the other tub were periodically lifted out of the water and put back in. When this happened, the researchers found that this second set of rats were able to swim for over 24 hours! This wasn’t because they were given a brief rest but rather because they had hope! They believed that if they could stay afloat just a little longer, someone would reach down and rescue them from certain peril!
Hope for us as God’s Baptized people isn’t optimism and the power of positive thinking based on the odds. It’s rock solid faith that waits on the Lord to bring about a better future that is as surprising as a sea split in half or a crucified Man rising from the dead! We look back to God’s amazing grace and faithfulness to inspire us to look forward in hope for our future. Our faith and hope isn’t in masks or PPE or a vaccine or gallons of hand sanitizer. It’s in the Lord of Life Himself Who conquered death for us and our salvation.
This is eternal hope given to us in the water and Word of our Baptism and placed into our mouths in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We are never, ever short on hope. In fact our whole lives are overflowing with such a tremendous hope that nothing can take it away. Not pandemics. Not tyrants. Not even death itself. For our hope is based on He Who was, He Who is and He Who is to come. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!