Monday, November 28, 2011

Hope Sermon

Hope Sermon
Isaiah 64: 1-9
November 27, 2011

Monty was a poor 16-year-old student growing up in the rural agricultural region of Salinas, California. When asked to write a "dreams" essay in high school about his life after graduation, he wrote about running a huge ranch and raising thoroughbred horses. A few days later, his teacher returned the graded essays. To his shock, Monty received an F. He asked his teacher, "How can I get an F on my dreams?" The teacher replied, "Because I asked you to be practical, and you were not practical." Monty stared in disbelief. The teacher, realizing his emotional state, added, "However, if you'd like to rewrite the paper and make your dreams more practical, I'll let you do that so you can raise your grade." Monty collected himself and looked the teacher in the eye. "Miss, you can keep your F; I'll keep my dreams." And, in the end, Monty did reach his dreams. He owns a large thoroughbred ranch, has trained horses for the Queen of England, has written five bestselling books, and was the subject of a major motion picture. Monty Roberts is the original "horse whisperer."

Monty grew up in generational poverty; all he had were his hopes and dreams. Hope is incredibly important for all of us. Hope is the force that can carry someone through an unthinkably terrible experience. Hope carries the cancer patient through another treatment. Hope helps the unemployed person prepare for one more job interview. Hope is what allows me to put on my Kansas City Chiefs jersey each Sunday (David to put on his Vols jersey each Saturday) and think- “today is the day for a win!”

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For four weeks we will anticipate and we will wait for the Christ- Child to be born. However, each week we get to share together in one of the gifts this child brings into the world and today’s gift is hope. Hope is different than a dream or a wish- hope is a fundamental belief that things will be different than what they are. As a people of faith, we know that God is the source of our hope. We know that even though we can look around at the world as it is and say, “things are not exactly as they should be,” we have a hope that things can be different because of our faith in God. Jesus Christ is God’s gift to the world and that gift came to bring hope. That gift announced to the world, “the kingdom of God is here.” In other words, “hope is here!”

If you find yourself looking at your personal life or at the world in general and thinking, “this is not the way God intended things to be,” then you are in good company. In the 64th chapter of the book of Isaiah, the prophet looks around at his situation and knows that God can do better.

For most of the book of Isaiah, the Israelites, God’s people, have been in exile. The Babylonians seized control of their homeland and sent them to live in a foreign land. We think that about the time chapter 64 was written, they had actually returned home. Cyrus the Persian king had conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Israelites to return to their original land. This was what they had been waiting for for many years. This was their deepest desire. This was their hope! But when they returned- they found things not as they hoped they would be. Then land was not as they had left it- and there were others living there. It wasn’t easy to return home again.
Into this profound sense that “things are not as they should be”- the prophet cries out for God. Isaiah says:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?

Isaiah is calling out on behalf of his people. He is saying- “God, things are not as they should be. We know you have intervened before- with earthquakes and trembling mountains. We know that we have messed up but please come to us again! Break into the world once again and set things right!”

Break into the world and set things right. This is a hope that God’s people have expressed throughout history and continue to express. Just before the birth of Christ- I have no doubt that God’s people were feeling the same way. They were asking God to break into the world again and set things right. I have to wonder if they were expecting earthquakes and trembling mountains. I know for sure they were expecting a conquering military power. I don’t think they were expecting a baby: a child who would grow to be a teacher, a prophet, a leader, a Messiah. But God knew exactly how to enter the world, and how to provide the hope that the people longed for. God knew to send a child, to a manager, to poor, unmarried parents. Hope can come in many unexpected ways.

Thanks to this congregation, hope came for some in the form of a basket full of Thanksgiving food. We will never fully know the impact of those baskets- who they were passed on to- who they were shared with- how many people they fed and the hope that they generated. Friday night on the square, hope was given in the form of a warm coat. For any who wanted one. Not credit check, no qualification- just a gift of love, freely given for anyone who wanted to receive. God has given us the power to give hope to others, and I pray that we would continue to spread hope as we move through this advent season.

Although you won’t find the word Advent in the Bible; Advent is a season of time in the church year that helps us prepare our hearts for one of our most sacred days. In this season we acknowledge that all is not as it should be in the world and we wait for Christ to enter into our world. If we take some time to prepare during this season, our hearts will be more ready to receive the Christ-child.

We will prepare together each week as we light a different Advent candle and celebrate the gifts of hope, joy, peace and love. We can prepare our hearts by reading scripture and maybe even one of the Advent devotional books. We can listen to music that points us toward the Christ-Child. We can attend the Children’s Christmas program and hear more about the story of God sending Jesus into the world. There are many ways in which we will prepare together as a church family.

John the Baptist tried to prepare people to receive Jesus as the Messiah. He called people to come and be baptized- a baptism that was expressly for the purpose of confessing sins. Confessing sin and clearing out all the junk that weighs on our hearts and minds is another way we can prepare for Christmas to come.

When Isaiah called out to God to be saved- he admitted on behalf of his community that they had sinned. They had turned from God and “become unclean,” in fact he says, “our sins sweep us away like the wind.” Even as he is asking God to come- he is repenting for his community’s wrongdoing. What is weighing on us as we enter this Advent season? What sins to we carry that keep us from fully experiencing God’s gift of Hope.

Yesterday I cleared a spot for my Christmas tree. I had to move some furniture, I had to sweep the spot where the tree will go- it had gotten dirty and cluttered. In the same way, if I want the God’s gift of Christ to shine in my life, it is time to prepare my heart for that gift to come. It is time to clear the dirt and clutter from my life- and to ask God to come and make things right again.

Isaiah called out to God:
8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

On this first Sunday of Advent, may we do the same as the Israelites. May we cry out to God, confess our sins and be ready for what God will bring into the world. May the next four weeks be a time of active waiting; a time of holy anticipation; a time of deep yearning for a Christ we love so deeply. Amen.

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