On Earth, Hope a Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent
This sermon on Isaiah 9:1-7 gives three ways to build your hope in difficult times.
On this first Sunday of Advent, I’d like to challenge you to use these days of waiting and preparation as a period of deep reflection and reconnecting to the real meaning of Christmas. May you set as a goal that this year you are aiming not so much for a “merry Christmas” as a meaningful Christmas. Let us align our spirits with the simplicity of the story, its basic messages of hope, peace, joy, and love.
How hopeful are you right now?
This week, let us ponder the question of hope and how we might allow the Christmas message to renew our sense of hope. Let’s establish a starting point, a baseline, if you will. How hopeful are you right now on a scale of one to ten?
- How hopeful are you about your personal future?
With all of the problems going on right now, how hopeful are you about our nation’s and world’s future? Do you see things as unravelling, or progressing?
- How hopeful are you about our church, our grandchildren’s futures? There is a wonderful Iriquois perspective of thinking about the long-term perspective in decision making. “When you sit in council think not of yourselves nor even of your generation. Think of those yet unborn even unto the seventh generation, making all decisions with those generations in mind” (Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy, 1000 CE). You think about not just the immediate impact, but how your decisions may impact the succeeding seven generations. How hopeful are you about how our decisions today will impact those future generations?
- Can you write down three things that give you hope right now? What do you need to build a greater sense of hope?
Isaiah’s Message of Hope for 2020
During our series on the prophets we’ve seen how at the darkest moments of history, the people of God are called to encourage one another that things will get better. God’s intentions for us are for good. As Jesus said, “I came that you might have life and live it abundantly.”
The prophet Isaiah wrote a hopeful message for his people in a gloomy time. He talked about how God would exchange suffering with joy. Isaiah gives us the right message for ending 2020. Let this one be over and trust that something better awaits. Think about how apt his promises are for us today.
#1 Gloom and anguish will disappear.
In his first promise, he says, “But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish.” Just think about how gloomy things may seem right now. Consider all the ways people are in anguish over the losses and disruptions they’ve born in this pandemic year. This may be a time when you are all too familiar with a sense of anguish. Hear the promise that this is but a season, God has something better in store. God will drive the dark of gloom away.
In fact, Isaiah says,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy.”
When we hold the light of those Christmas candles in our hands on Christmas Eve, we remember this passage. Light has come into the world. Our path forward in the darkness is illuminated by the teachings of Jesus, those teachings are about trust and hope and faith and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Do you want to build hope into your life? Then walk as a child of the light. Let your thoughts, words and deeds reflect the light of Christ. Then you can be part of the solution for the world’s ails. Like the saying goes, our duty is to punch holes in the darkness of the world.
#2 A more just society will emerge.
His second big promise is that a more just society will emerge. I believe Isaiah’s message is powerful for our time because of the way he talks to oppressed people as if the bars of their oppression have already been broken. Lisen to how he says it.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.”
It’s as if he is saying, “Listen people. You cannot see it yet. But God is working this out. God’s will is for humane and just treatment for all people. Today people cry out from the bonds of oppression and discrimination. All around the world there is exploitation of laborers, sweat shops, sex trafficking, and all kinds of other injustices. We know that for God’s will to be one on earth as it is in heaven the people of God must rise up and oppose evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they prevent themselves.
Bending toward Justice
The first thing we learn about humans in Genesis is that we are all created in the divine image. And we know that whenever any child of God is treated as something less than a bearer of the divine image we must rise up and oppose it. It takes courage because doing the right thing is usually unpopular and some people will try to bully you into silence. But don’t you let them.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people revile you and speak evil against you on account of me.” Hope within you rises when you act as a blessed one.
I love the way Martin Luther King Jr. talked about this. He said, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Eventually, the right thing prevails when good people are vigilant and do what they can to make this world a better place. They give. They emit positive energy with their actions and things change.
As a political and news junkie who cares deeply about injustice and human suffering it’s easy to grow discouraged, despondent. When I feel this starting to happen, I lean into the promise that God is still at work bending that moral arc toward justice. In the end, God’s way will prevail.
#3 The Promise of a Savior
The third great promise in Isaiah’s passage is about the child who will be born to help us turn things around in the world. At Christmas, we remember that God kept this promise. Every year, we recite this passage. To give us hope in knowing we follow a God who keeps promises.
But the birth of a savior didn’t make all the problems go away. Jesus didn’t magically make everything better. Rather, he showed us the path, a way of living that can make all the difference in the world. Jesus taught us to be spiritual and compassionate.
Studies show that one of the ways to a more hopeful disposition is to do something for someone else. Your gifts, your service, your kindness are wonderful for the people you help. But it also does something for you. It gives you perspective, it makes you happier.
The Snowflake that breaks a mighty branch.
Once, I expressed my frustration about some horrible current events in the 1990’s to a wise religion professor, Roger Betsworth. It was hard to see that despite all my actions and those of others in the ring, nothing seemed to change. I wondered allowed if my efforts were in vain, if they made any difference at all.
He said when his spirit grows gloomy he remembers watching a branch of a mighty oak tree break during a snowstorm. One snowflake is so light, it weighs nothing at all. By itself, it is not much. But when they pile up on each other, eventually that one last snowflake, lighter than air, something that seems like nothing at all can fell a mighty oak.
I learned to never give up hope. On our own, our individual kindnesses and actions may not seem like much. But they are building. One on top of another and eventually they change the world.
I know it’s a politically charged slogan now. But let’s get away from that and remember that we are God’s snowflakes in this world to help break the mighty oaks of hopelessness.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Amen.