Season of Hope

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | December 4, 2022

Isaiah 11:1-10 and Romans 15:4-7

Nelson Mandela once said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

One of the things that I wrestle with, is the different between the ideal and the real. We read these ancient texts that tell of all the wonderful things that God has in store –

The prophecies of Isaiah that the wolf shall lie down with the lamb.

The promise of a Messiah and the realm of God being close at hand.

This wonderful story bursting with the promise of love and goodness.

And the cold, hard reality of the world in which we live. I ponder the questions –

Where is God?

What is God doing?

While a sense of certainty about these might appear to be a good thing, I tend to suspect certainty. I see certainty not as the goal of my spiritual quest, but as more of a dead end. The questions keep me going; the questions keep me wondering.

God – the story of unbounded love – the promises – it’s all a wonder, a mystery. I can only share it – not so that you may grasp it so much as touch upon it – and maybe experience it with a sense of awe and wonder at the mystery of it – such that you are inspired to go forth and to keep moving forward on your own faith journey. Always leaning toward the promise while standing in the reality of the world in which we live.

Earlier this year I had a conversation with my oldest grandson, Ian. Ian is a sophomore in high school. He was born in Ethiopia and adopted by my daughter when he was six months old. I asked him, “Do you have any thoughts on current politics?”

He answered, “I don’t care.”

We left it at that. I thought about what my primary concerns were at that age. School, friends and trying to earn some money; the same things that Ian is concerned about. Hanging over our heads when I was sixteen were the issues of the war in Vietnam, divisions in society, racial inequalities, the economy, and the cold war. Hanging over Ian’s head are the issues of war, divisions in society, racial inequalities, the lingering effects of the pandemic from long months of on-line learning, environmental concerns, technology, violence and trying to earn some money. In saying about politics, “I don’t care,” I think he was saying that he has enough concerns on his plate as it is.

At any time in our life we are dealing with where we’ve been what we’ve been through, where we are and what we are going through, where we are heading and what challenges the future will hold. Faith is somehow finding the pathway through the ideal and the real. Faith is about seeing what God makes possible.

Advent is a word that means, “Something is happening.” For people who pay attention to a church calendar, the season of Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It marks the beginning of the church calendar. We get ready for Christmas to happen.

Even though we celebrate something that happened around 2000 years ago, we remind ourselves that God’s chosen one, Jesus, comes into the world over and over again. There’s the possibility that he might be born anew in our lives. His being born 2000 years ago still holds the possibility of making a difference to our lives today. We keep coming back to Christmas as a way of renewing God’s possibilities. 

What that says about our religion is that we are hopeful. Hope is a good thing to have. The world we live in changes and presents us with new challenges. Just when we think we’ve got one problem settled, something new comes along to unsettle us. The world we live in tells us, ‘be afraid.’ But then Advent comes along to remind us not to give up on hope just yet. Because Christ was born, he’s still around to offer empowerment to our lives. So, don’t give up just yet.

One of the questions we can ponder is, “What’s happening?” What is waiting to happen in your life? If you imagine the future, you can imagine some of the challenges you might face. Some things will change; some for the better, some for the worse. Where will God be in the challenges you face?

What we’re about this day in Advent is what we’re about everyday – working out our salvation – coming to terms with the choice between hope and fear. What God makes possible is always on offer; the alternatives are there too. What we think of as faith is often just a choice of which reality we’re going to live into.

Advent reminds us of the difference between the ideal world and the real world. We hear words from the bible about a world where peace reigns supreme. Sworn enemies will live as friends. Government will be honest and just. Someday everything that’s wrong with the world will be put right. So, there’s always reason to hope. Faith is a choice. We can choose to engage in hope; we can choose to love people; we can choose to do the right thing.

One time when it was time for the little three-year-old to take a nap, he was so tired that he threw himself on the floor and cried out, “I don’t like you anymore!”

I said, “That’s okay, because I still love you.”

We all know how frustrating it can be to be to get along with people. Sometimes it’s probably a good thing that we’re around people in segments of only an hour or the length of a meeting. What if, instead of leaving it at, “I don’t like you anymore,” we added, “that’s okay, I because I still love you.” Isn’t that what we would want for ourselves? How we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and how God loves us? All those times when we say to God, “I don’t like you anymore.”

We have not chosen the times in which we live, but God has chosen us to live in these times. The world we live in is torn asunder by differences and divisions. It is a world tormented by fear and hatred. But it is also the world that was created and shaped by God, and each of us in this world breathes the breath of our Divine Creator. Eternal realities are not bound by the days and the weeks.

We might take it for granted that the world is made up of people who think only of themselves. Me first and mine above all. My way or the highway. My religion and my God.

But there are countless people alive today who are brave, capable and who are guided by their love for others. People who would lay down their life if need be.  And if you can see that, then you can see yourself as one of the brave, capable and loving people who are able to live for something greater and more noble than just themselves.

God is love. We might not save the world, but we can help to heal it. We can plant the seeds of peace where they need to be planted. We can act to make the world a more just place in which to live.

Picture in your mind the people who taught you the meaning of love. Think of the people who have said to you in your lifetime, “I love you.”

Picture in your mind the ones you love. Think of the people to whom you have said, “I love you.”

These are the ones reflecting the image of God in your life.

Think of yourself in your mind’s eye and imagine God saying, “I love you.”  Amen.

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