Advent – A Season of Hope – December 1, 2019, First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019
During Advent, I have often been drawn to the traditional themes of Advent. There are three, do you remember them? 1) The prophecies about the coming Messiah and his first coming to the earth, 2) the events leading up to the beginning of his earthly ministry, (the story of John the Baptist) and 3) the promise of his coming again to this earth.
You’ve heard me talk about those before. However, this year I’m trying something different, something I’ve never done before. I am going to be using, for the themes of the Sunday’s of Advent, the same themes we’ll be using for the Candles of our Advent Wreath. I’ve never tried that before. So, you’re all guinea pigs – sort of. What that means is that when we light the Advent Candle at the beginning of the service, and we talk about the theme that candle represents, that will be the theme of the entire service.
I sure “hope” this works! And, that’s theme of the first Sunday of Advent. Our candle today is the candle of Hope. And that’s good, because I think Hope is something that pervades all of the traditional themes of Advent which, I told you about a few minutes ago. There was hope that a Messiah would someday come. Then when Jesus began his ministry, there was a growing hope that he was possibly the one. And there is hope in the promise that he will come again to this earth.
So think about that word “Hope” for today. When Paul gave the Hebrews his famous definition of the word “Faith,” he said, “Faith is the Assurance of things we hope for.” (Hebrews 11:1) In other words, things we believe to be true in our faith, things we are sure of, give us hope. Hope is about the future, isn’t it? Hope is what we have when we feel good about what is ahead of us. And if we don’t, if we don’t have hope, what do we do? We worry, don’t we? And in the worst case, we despair. We become depressed.
Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like you had no hope? Have you ever felt like there was no light at the end of the tunnel, like, whatever difficult time you were going through was never going to end? How did that make you feel?
Sometimes it’s a matter of what things “seem like.” We know (in our heads) that things are going to get better, but it doesn’t “seem like it.” Do you know that feeling! It “feels like” whatever we’re going through is not going to end. Sometimes, when times are tough, the words that assure me, and what I say to others, is “it’s not always going to be like this.” “It might seem like it, but it’s not!” And we know that’s true, but it’s tough when we feel that way.
Well, our God doesn’t want us to live that way! He doesn’t want us to live without hope. Do you remember what I was saying about the Sermon on the Mount? It was probably the most important speech Jesus ever gave. And I asked you, “How did he decide what he was going to say?” “What did he think was important to tell the people that day, and the people of all time?” Because remember, the Sermon on the Mount is certainly the most read sermon of all time!
Well, sure enough, one of the most important things he said that day, was about the thing that is so important for people to hear today. He talked to them about stress and anxiety! “Do not be worried!” “Have no anxiety.” “Do not be stressed.” As I’ve said before, stress is one of the greatest maladies of our age!
God doesn’t want us to live that way! He knows how bad it is for us! God wants us to be people who have hope for our future. Eventually our hope is eternity with him. That’s one of our basic beliefs. That’s one of our basic needs. But I believe we also need to have hope even in our daily living. Jesus talked in terms of not being worried about what we shall wear, and what we shall eat. Those are pretty basic.
This is not simply a matter of living an anxious, stressed life, as long as we have hope for life eternal. It’s more than that. God wants us to live our everyday lives without stress and worry! So how are you doing? I know I still have a lot to learn about this one. As I’ve often said, I have that bone in my head that makes me worry! I think I got it from my mother!
Jesus would tell us that hope is not just an eternal word. Hope is an every day word! Hope is how we cope! It is how we come to have another of our themes of Advent which we’ll think about in a couple of weeks – Peace.
For hundreds of years, the people of Israel had the hope for a Messiah, Savior. They had been conquered and subjugated numerous times. They longed for a return of their glory days, the days of King David. That’s why we hear his name referenced throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons! That was their Hope. And I’m sure for them it must have seemed like the days were all dark, like there wasn’t a light at the end of the tunnel!
What is our hope? Our hope is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us!” And that’s a great word. It’s not just that God saves us, or that God redeems us. It is “God with us!” Having someone else “with us” in times of crises gives us hope. It’s comforting to us. If we’re going through a difficult time, it’s good when someone says, “I’m with you.” Jesus is the promise of “God with us.”
Now, I’m not saying hope is a magic formula. It’s not something that you can just buy. You can’t get it from Amazon! Hope is something we must learn to have. It’s something that rises in us, it’s something that grows, or sometimes diminishes. It isn’t something that pops into existence or is bestowed upon us in a full blow way. And sometimes we can get hope from others, or we can give hope to others. We “be with them.” We can affirm what someone hopes.
The other thing I want to say here is that I’m not talking about hope as though it’s some kind of “pie in the sky” hope. Sometimes we use the word “hope” in the sense of the word “wish.” It’s not “I sure hope someday we can solve all the world’s problems.” That’s not what we’re talking about. This is a sure hope based on solid ground of faith! As God’s people, I believe we have the greatest hope!
Let me leave you today with an image. There has been a symbol for Hope throughout Christian history. Do you remember what it is? The symbol for hope is the Anchor! Hope is our anchor. It is solid, strong, and sure! What is your anchor? A few weeks ago, we sang one of my favorite hymns, “My Hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” “In every high and stormy gale my anchor holds within the veil.” “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
That’s a great song. May it be our song – a song of hope during Advent, and throughout the year.
Eternal God, we thank you for the promise you gave us through Jesus, that you are with us, to the close of the age. Help us to know that in all times and circumstances of our lives. Help us every day to know that you are our rock, our fortress, our anchor, in whom we can trust. Help us to have hope for each day, and for all eternity. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.