Times are dark in this world for many. I see posts of despair on Facebook and have conversations face to face hearing words from hearts longing for the hope they feel has abandoned them like a beloved companion who absconded in the night. Nostalgia that paraded as something meaningful has disappointed yet again. Violence tears through lives like fire through powder-dry leaves. Gifts, not of compassion but betrayal, both given and received, seem to haunt the troubled minds of so many. We all seem to be fumbling around together in the dark in a mutual desperate quest for the light switch.
This is a sermon I wrote two years ago for a mid week Advent service. It seems a good time to post it again. If you feel there is no light in the world, light a candle, even if you are weeping your way through the striking of the match.
Romans 8:18-25 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
During December we are going to contemplate three gifts we receive from God in the season of Advent. Today that gift is Hope.
What do we think of when we hear the word hope? Paul seems to think it is something invisible, as he says in his letter to the Romans: hope that is seen is not hope. He says that in hope we were saved, in hope all creation will be set free from brokenness, in hope we wait with patience. Hope seems to be something we are in until Jesus comes to make all things new.
We might imagine hope as a pretty word, in ornamental scroll on a plaque on the wall, something lovely and sweet that makes us feel buoyant and light inside. While I think that light definitely has a whole lot to do with hope, it is definitely not something that sits on a little shelf in our heart, reminding us that it will all get better, it will all be ok someday, and it definitely isn’t something that foolishly ignores the difficulties of life, pretending that there are not struggles to go through.
Hope is probably one of the most active words we can conceive. It is likely the most hardworking of virtues. Hope is gritty and strong, made from sweat and blood, and definitely not sitting on a shelf. Hope is realistic and unafraid of the truth.
Hope is a two thousand pound workhorse hauling us across rough terrain, sloppy mud, and out of the valley of the shadow into the light.
Hope is a fireman going into the burning home while everyone else is running away, pouring out every ounce of energy they have, risking everything, seeking and saving the living.
Hope is a broad beam of life saving light from a tall tower shining onto a pitch black, storm rocked sea, making the way safe for the lost; guiding them home.
Hope is a tenacious rescue dog, digging through the ruin of a collapsed building, on alert for any sound, any scent, any possibility of life, never giving up until the last is found.
Hope is a mighty, ancient oak tree, spreading wide branches full of life, and all contained inside the tiny hard shelled acorn.
Hope does not say: I will never fall. Hope says: I may fall seven times, but I will rise up eight.
Hope isn’t just something we wish we could have or simply an optimistic outlook. Hope is covered in the sweat and dirt and blood of all of life’s trenches in which we find ourselves.
Hope says: when it is dark, I will wait and keep watch for the earliest signs of dawn because I know the dawn will come. Hope also searches for stars in the dark and also says: when it looks like all the light in your world is gone, I will share my light with you.
In John’s gospel, it says that the Word, Jesus, is life and that life is the light of the world. That light shines in the darkness and darkness cannot and will not overcome it. It is no accident that we often associate light with hope.
One of the central themes of Advent is hope and some of the most meaningful symbols of Advent are light. Lighting candles is one example. The hope of Advent is that expressed in Mary’s Magnificat: God is a bringer of justice and a keeper of promises. It is the hope that God will come to us again to complete the kingdom and make all things new. It is the hope of the light shining in the darkness.
That light, that hope which is strong as a workhorse, brave as a fireman, bright as a lighthouse, tenacious as a rescue dog, grand and tiny as an oak tree in an acorn, and brilliant as a sky full of stars, is not something far from us that we are waiting upon; something to wish we had. Hope is a gift of Advent because it is a hope that is also here now, within us. Emanuel, God with us, is coming again, but is also here, now.
This light shining in the darkness, this hope, is already here working in us, working through us. This is the hope that will rise once more than it falls, is not afraid to be in life’s trenches, and it is a hope we can share with those who feel hopeless. This is the hope that is Jesus Christ in us now.
This is the hope that shines in the darkness and darkness cannot and will not overcome it.