Advent – A Season of Faith – December 8, 2019, Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2019
Last week, we looked at the first of our Advent themes. And I said then that we’re going to be using the themes of our Advent candles as the theme for each of our services. And I think that’s going to work out nicely!
Well, the theme for last week was “Hope.” And as I started that day, I mentioned that Paul’s classic definition of the word “Faith” incorporated the word “Hope.” He said, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” Well, the next in our series of Advent themes is “Faith.” The next candle burning before us reminds us that we are called to be people of faith.
So, I want you to think about that word. And the first thing that comes to my mind is that sometimes we use the word “Faith” as though it’s a noun. We use it to mean a “Following” or a “Belief system,” or even a “Denomination.” We might say, “I’m of the Presbyterian faith.” Or “I have a friend who’s part of the Catholic faith.” I actually caught myself using the word that way this week. I was talking about “people of different faiths.” And you know what it means when it’s used that way.
But Faith as our Advent theme, means more than that. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,” as Paul wrote. Faith is something we “do.” I’m not sure what part of speech you call it, but it’s more like a verb. It’s an action. In a sense, we “do” our faith. We “have faith” in things.
Think about that. Even people who claim they don’t have “faith,” have faith! It just depends on what they have faith in! The example I like to use is the brakes on our cars. We have faith in them! We have faith that our car will stop when we step on that pedal. No matter how fast we go, we know – we have faith – that we can stop. I love the joke about the guy who got his car back from the mechanic, and he said, “I couldn’t fix your brakes, so I made your horn louder!” We have faith in our brakes. “Well that’s a physical thing,” someone might say. “That’s a mechanical system.” “That can be explained.” “That can be understood.” But I would say, “Yeah, but you didn’t work on them!” “You have faith that the person who did, did it right!”
Faith is almost like the word “trust.” We might say we have “faith” in someone, meaning we “trust” them. We are sure they can do something. We think them “trustworthy.” If someone is striving to accomplish something we say, “I have faith in you. I believe in you!”
So “Faith” is our word for today. And in our story for today, there was a lot of faith going on!! Mary goes to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth doesn’t question what has happened to her. Instead she greets Mary with the words “Blessed are you among women!” Again, we read these stories with our “Bible voice.” We read them as “holy scripture” – as we should. But in doing so, we sometimes miss the power and emotion of what is happening. Both of these women had miraculous things happen to them, things that were hard to believe – especially Mary! And yet they believed! They had faith in the God who brought it all about! And I wonder, would we have had such faith?
Think for a moment about the people of the Old Testament. They had two very important terms when thinking about God. Those terms were, “Steadfast love and faithfulness.” Those two things often went together. In Psalm 100 we have a typical example. “For the Lord is good. His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness isto all generations.” (Psalm 100:5) Those words are found together throughout the Old Testament. The words “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” were very important characteristics of God for the Hebrew people! That’s what they believed about him.
“Steadfast love,” is the Hebrew word “Hesed.” And it’s the basis for our word “Grace,” which means “the unmerited love of God.” In other words, God loves us even though we don’t deserve it. God came to earth on Christmas, not because we were worthy of it, or because we deserved it, but because we needed it! Paul told the Romans, “God showed his love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
God’s love is “Steadfast.” He loves his people no matter what. “Faithfulness,” then, meant that he loves his people always! God is faithful. He is reliable. He is trustworthy.
Advent tells us of the faithfulness of God. In fact, those two things the Hebrew people believed about God, his Steadfast Love and faithfulness, are what lead to the events of Christmas. “God so loved – so steadfastly loved – the world that he sent his only son.” Because he is faithful to his people, he sent them the means for their redemption – and ours. And his love is not conditional on our love for him or even our actions – or lack of actions. We can always have that faith, that belief, in God – we can always trust in God, for God is always faithful.
That’s one thing we celebrate at this time of year, our faith. And we can ask ourselves, “Do we have that faith, that ‘Assurance of things hoped for?’” The other thing we think about is our faithfulness. Not just that we have faith in God, that we believe in him and trust him, but that we are faithful to him. Do we continue to love God, no matter what! Do we make that choice of being faithful? That’s a tough one!
Of the marathons that I’ve run, I think my favorite was the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran that twice, in 95 and 2010. Not only did they run the most efficient, well organized race, but many Marines ran the race, too! Some ran in groups carrying flags. Some ran in formation. And I’ll never forget one group that ran surrounding a comrade in a wheelchair. As I ran beside them, I saw that one of the runners in the group was wearing a backpack, and strapped across the top of it was his buddy’s prosthetic leg. I ran with that group for a long time! It was very moving! But all throughout the race, from time to time, I would hear them yell to one another “Semper Fi.” “Semper Fidelis.” “Always Faithful!” That’s the Marine Corps motto.
Now, I’m not suggesting we (civilians!) can fully understand the depth of that faithfulness that members of the Corps have for each other. But I am suggesting that faithfulness is something we can choose to have. We can choose to be people who are faithful – faithful to each other, faithful to the Church, and we can be faithful to God.
That’s the other part of this word. We have “faith,” that is, we have that “assurance of things hoped for.” Like Mary and Elizabeth, we can believe what God has told us. We can trust his word. But, we also choose to be “faithful,” to be steadfast, to be trustworthy. (That’s the first word of the Scout law!) Faithfulness is something we choose. We are faithful to God, remembering that he is faithful to us! That’s what this flame means. Those are the two parts of what we celebrate in this. We have faith, because God is faithful. And he calls us to be faithful people.
So, as we look at this candle, we can ask ourselves those things, “Do we have faith?” And “Are we faithful people?” And I would close by saying to you the words that are sometimes said in encouragement, “Keep the faith, brothers!” “Keep the faith, sisters!” Keep having faith. Keep being faithful. Keep up the discipline and practice of your faith. Keep remembering that God loves you – steadfastly – and he is faithful to you. And stay faithful and steadfast in your love for him.
Eternal God, your steadfast love does endure forever, and your faithfulness is to all generations. We thank you that in your great love you sent your son into this world and into our lives. Help us to be people of faith. Help us to grow in our trust in you. Help us to show our faithfulness to you in our lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.