Still Seeking…Hope

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Whether you are new to church, or have been around a while, the concept of “Advent” can be puzzling. Rev. John Weems will explores the hope people were looking for before Jesus was born, and that which we are still seeking.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Isaiah 2:1-5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

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At the age of nine at around this time of year, I asked my parents a question that really warmed their hearts: “Will you please take me to the store so I may buy grandma a Christmas present?” Since we lived in Shoshone, Idaho at the time—population 1,200—this meant driving nearly 30 miles to go to K-Mart in the bigger city of Twin Falls. As we entered the doors of the store, my proud mom and dad stood back. Would their darling son make his way to pick up a coveted pair is Isotoner gloves, or would it be a Jaclyn Smith branded scarf (she was on the original Charlie’s Angels)? They treated me like an adult, and watched as I immediately headed for . . . the . . . toy section. As they quickly learned, I had never intended to buy a present for my dear Grandma. I had my eye on a toy Trans Am named KITT, just like the one in David Hasselhoff’s in the hit television show, Knight Rider.

A 30 mile ride is a long way for a little boy to learn that Christmas is not primarily about getting toys for one’s self. I never received that toy Trans Am. My parents seized the moment to teach me about Jesus, selflessness, generosity, and patience.

They were trying to teach me to think beyond my own desires.

Years later when I started attending a Presbyterian Church, I wondered why we didn’t just start singing Away in a Manger and Joy to the World! right after Thanksgiving. They had been playing them in stores for weeks anyway. I had to learn about something called Advent. If you are new to the church now as I was then, “Advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, meaning coming or visit. As we light candles each week, we pray for hope, peace, joy, love, and culminating in the Christ candle.

Today’s candle represents hope.

If Jesus was already born, lived, died, and overcame death, we are we still here in 2016 seeking hope?

Our two Scripture readings shed some light on the perpetual pursuit of hope by people of faith. Written approximately 700 years before Christ and edited through the years, Isaiah 2:1-5 reflects the great struggles of the people of Israel. In their entire history, they had not experienced peace over a prolonged period of time. They had lost battles and land. Hope seemed distant.

Noel Leo Erskine, professor Candler School of Theology at Emory University, explains that Isaiah is pointing to hope that comes by placing God as the focal point rather than self. “Without God’s promise as basis and ground of hope, the future is bound to be a repetition of the past,” Erskine explains. The new future that Isaiah offers as promise is that the temple of God will be lifted high above all the mountains and all people . . .”[1] He goes on to write, “The promise comes in the midst of the waywardness and idolatry of the people. The promise is not consonant with the practice and the conduct of the people, the but the prophet who is able to “see beyond seeing” and somehow able to see God’s hope for the people, articulates a message that transcends the reality on the ground.”

The people were inwardly focused and God knew it. Though many more trials would come, our Creator would not give up, looking for that day when swords would be beaten into ploughshares.

Fast-forward approximately 750 years. Emmanuel, God with us, has lived, died and risen.

A man named Saul, seeking to be faithful, has been tracking down followers of this Jesus and doing what he can to stop them at all costs. He has an epiphany, an encounter with this risen Jesus, in which his eyes are covered with something like scales. When he can see again, he has a new vision devoting his entire life to building up the community for this Jesus.

Saul, who would become known as Paul, knew a thing or two about receiving a course correction from God. Let us read some of his words together in Romans 13:11-14:

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Cynthia M. Campbell, Pastor & Former President of McCormick Theological Seminary points out Paul is calling us to a new day, though “it is still dark outside when this theological alarm clock goes off,” adding that “Perhaps it is that mysterious moment when the darkness of night begins to give way to shadows, and there is just enough light to know that morning is around the corner. This is a time of anticipation, and Paul urges his audience to action. It is time to get up and get dressed.”[2]

That is what Advent is.

Time to wake up when it’s still dark outside, get dressed, and realize that the already-not yet arrival of Jesus isn’t about getting the shiny new toy we want.

Waking up and putting on the clothing of Christ is rarely convenient. It frequently means disrupting one’s work or entire life.

It’s about hope that comes through transformation, focused on Christ rather than this world.

Living into the advent hope in Christ also means paying careful attention to the world around us in these very tense times in which many people see a picture just as bleak as those in the times of Isaiah or Paul. Advent means that when we sing Go, Tell it on the Mountain on Christmas that we have taken the time to listen to the voices of the historically oppressed and discriminated against in our society. As we seek to put on the clothing of Christ, we also pray for the ears of Christ to hear the Water Protectors at Standing Rock in North Dakota, the people of Cuba, and other people in our country and world living in fear that some emboldened person will attack them based on their skin color, religion, or sexual orientation. It also means not automatically dismissing someone with whom we disagree as “too political.” As part of your own Advent spiritual formation, I encourage you to read the Gospel of Matthew and ask yourself the question of whether Jesus was involved in matters we might shy away from because they were controversial.

W.E.B. DuBois, a prominent figure who fought against racism and oppression, said, “The most important thing to remember is this: To be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”[3]

I came across this quote set on a pretty background with butterflies in the background. Many people reference the words in a personal context, looking at changing career or taking a risk. Those uses are certainly valid, but DuBois was after transformation beyond the individual level—that sort of broad transformation is messy.

In one of her excellent sermons back on May 29, Rev. Joann Lee reminded us that the transformation that brings forth a butterfly is neither simple nor clean: “First, the caterpillar makes this cocoon and then it literally digests itself,” Joann explained. “And it just breaks down and becomes this caterpillar soup. Any trace of the caterpillar itself cannot really be found. It goes away, almost completely. And only after the caterpillar has disintegrated its own tissue can it start to rebuild itself from the few imaginal discs that remain to form wings, and antennae, and legs. Undergoing change can feel like you’ve lost your identity completely. You may feel like caterpillar soup right now.

Putting on the garments of Christ can feel this way.

Advent is the time to stop, listen, hope, and know that God is likely calling us to evidence of that hope.

[1] Noel Leo Erskine. In, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Year A: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting On the Word) (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), Kindle Edition.

[2] Cynthia M. Campbell. In, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting On the Word: Year A: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting On the Word) (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), Kindle Edition.



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