In the middle of December when I was a child, boxes would begin appearing on the kitchen table to decorate our home. It was not until later, I learned that they were tucked in the attic throughout the year and taken down only for Christmas. The children just expected Christmas tins, mistletoe, stuffed bears, and other decorations would show up.
This Advent season, we will unpack a few of our expectations like the ornaments that we have brought down from the attic or up from the basement for the Christmas tree. Just like cookies, stockings, and lights, we expect hope, peace, joy, love, and the Christ-child to show up this season. Expectations inspire us and drag us down. They cripple us and urge us on. We cannot understand them, and yet, we yearn for them. Expectations are the reasons we set up wreaths and nativities. Expectations are the reasons the season feels light and jolly as well as heavy and hollow. We expect something more. We have given up and can not hold any more of the expectations heaped on our heads. Expectations can be mixed. But how many of us expected God to show up, this morning to church to transform our lives? Do we expect to experience God’s hope to change the world?
If we are honest, we are not sure what hope looks like. We stand watching and waiting, not knowing what we are looking for. Jesus called the disciples in Luke to be on high alert. When you have a child who might get sick, you are watching for the unknown. When you take a test, you are waiting for the score. It is like when you think something might go awry, but you are not sure what. When you have a feeling, but you cannot quite put your finger on it. Justice Porter Stewart, former judge on the Supreme Court, described pornography that way – I will know it when I see. (1) We are not always sure what we are hoping for, but we know it when we see it.
The prophet Isaiah spoke to Israelites post-exile who needed to hear hope. The people Jesus spoke to needed to hear hope. We need, too, to hear hope. We need to hear hope in order to expect hope and expect that God will and has shown up. God is showing up, and God is present. We light the candles in Advent wreath to remind ourselves of God’s incredible presence now and throughout time. Expect hope to fill our lives as we prepare for the coming of the Christ-child.
The prophet Isaiah preaches to his own people who feel both hope and longing. The Israelites are called to repentance of their need for security over care for others. It is hard to hold hope when others live in poverty and despair. Isaiah encourages them that there will indeed be a time when war will be no more. There will be a time when our war machines and our implements of war be changed to produce food and peace for even our sworn enemies. Often prophets come from the most reflective sources, like five-star general and President Dwight Eisenhower who gave this final statement as he left public life:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. (2)”
His longing and hope for peace echoes the word of Isaiah. We need to reminded of the words of President Eisenhower in a time in which our military keeps growing, and we still feel less secure as a country. Where are you being called to be alert and knowledgeable? We need to see where God is calling us to a part of the active hope.
Renewal leave is a regular part of clergy person’s life and church’s life, and yet – it had never been a part of my life or a part of your life, here at West Grove. I know it was an incredible blessing to mine. I pray it has been to yours. I am eager to hear to your stories and to share mine.
I will share just one this morning, although medically, the most transformative. Since January I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer, I chose to put my head down and keep going. I was able to have tumors removed on one day and resume pastoral duties on the next. I know that I am not the only one who faces life like this. I received excellent care, and I continued to do good work. However, that pace is emotionally and physically exhausting. I have chosen a different way going forward. Additionally, what stopped me was a scan that pointed to a tumor in my brain. One does not keep going in the same way.
In fact, you pray. You call on the body of Christ. And you have been praying. And so, have faithful people around the world. And you meet with the best doctors. So, seeking more information to make better decision, my brain was scanned.
And incredibly healing occurred. That which was previously there- decreased. A miracle happened.
This doesn’t mean that those who are still watching and waiting, God doesn’t love. Or the ones who weren’t healed now, weren’t praying hard enough. It means in one case, together, we see God working and our hope is being fulfilled.
My story is still being written. I am currently in remission. (Thanks be to God – and God’s people). I also manage fibromyalgia every day, including regular swimming in the water well. I am learning to care well.
Anyone who has known worry and concern or despair and fear, has known why hope needs her own candle. Some of us brim with hope. Other need to share our hope with others, outsource the project, or download the benefit of the hard work of others, because some people do not hold hope. Hope needs a candle to remind us how to hope in looking for God’s transforming work in the world.
We hope for miracles to change our world and ways in small and dramatic ways. But longing is when we have not yet known the full realization of the resolution of our personal pain and the world’s pain. Advent is this time of longing before Christmas joy. Many of us know longing. Jesus called those of us who are hoping and expecting our lives to be transformed as if the kingdom were already here, hope filled our lives, and Jesus reigned on high to be on high alert. We never know exactly how we might see hope show up.
I invite you this Advent, as clearly as you decorate the Christmas tree and the string your lights, bake your cookies and address your cards, to expect with hope that God is transforming this world. Expect with hope that God is at work in your life and changing your life to be more like Jesus.
Watch and wait for the miracles.
Do Expect Hope.
This is the gospel, the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
(1) Supreme Court case of Jacobelis v. Ohio.
(2) President Dwight Eisenhower on January 17, 1961
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 2:3-4
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.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, December 2 ~ Saturday, December 8
Sunday: “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. “Isaiah 2:3. Hope is cultivated. Expect God will show up. Go to the mountain of the LORD. Be with others who have known God. Be teachable.
Monday: “He shall judge between the nations and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4. Pray for the day in which nation will fight nation, and we will not learn war.
Tuesday: “‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Luke 21:25. Hope is a lifesaver in the roaring sea. Pray for those who are without hope.
Wednesday: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’” Luke 21:28. Where is God calling you stand up for others and offer hope?
Thursday: “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Luke 21:31. Consider where it is that you can see the kingdom of God coming near and give thanks to God.
Friday: “‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.” Luke 21:34- 35. Hope lightens your heart and soul. Offer today’s worries to God with hope. God will care for you.
Saturday: “Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’” Luke 21:36. Where are you being invited into a time of preparation this Advent? When you expect God to show, you prepare with hope.