Illuminating Advent: Hope (day 1)
We began this week reflecting on Hope. Each Monday of Advent our devotional will be a synopsis of the sermon from the day before and then Joanna and I will continue through the week with a conversational devotion continuing those thoughts in various trajectories. So how does scripture illuminate hope, we asked yesterday in worship? When we illuminate the darkness two things happen. We being to see what something isn’t – that isn’t the bogey man under our bed, it’s my dirty clothes. And we begin to see more clearly what something is. So what did we see about the hope that is routed in Jesus Christ?
This hope in Jeremiah 33:14-16, Romans 8:18-25, and 1 Peter 1:3-9 wasn’t a promise that life would be easy. Even those who have the first fruits of creation, Paul tells us, still groan in labor pains with all of creation. We are still waiting for something not yet fully realized. Our hope is not a panacea that promises an easy journey. Our hope also doesn’t promise an escape from this world to some idealized place removed from here. Jeremiah reminds us that the messiah links our past, present, and future. Hope is dirty and rooted in earth. God intends not to redeem me – God intends to redeem (all of) creation. Nothing is getting scrapped (God reminds God’s self of that with every rainbow). Hope doesn’t promise us escape and it also doesn’t promise that we can just sit by as bystanders because God’s work is incarnational – God’s work is in-the-flesh – and this reminds us that God works through human agency. God called Abraham and Moses and Ruth; God calls Mary, Peter, and Paul. God came in flesh: rooted not just in earth but working with all creation as partners in love and care. God calls us.
So if hope is not about ease, retreat, or having our work done for us, what is hope? Is there anything left to make hope have substance?
I think the essence of our hope in Jesus Christ is two-fold. It’s that God’s creation is one. We are all inter-connected; we are all called into neighbor-love in which we understand all that exists – people, earth, stars and sea – to be our neighbor. We are not alone, nor are the tasks before us ours alone. Our hope lies in a God who gathers in all of creation and binds us together in love. We are not alone.
The other aspect of this hope is that God just doesn’t give up on us. The parable of the prodigal son gets us in touch with our own elder brother bitterness. Why do good if even the good-for-nothing younger brother that squandered his inheritance is rewarded in the end? This is the wrong question, an understandable one, but the wrong one. Flip that script. The good news is that God doesn’t give up on us. There is nothing we can do that makes God love us less. There is nothing we can do that puts us outside of God’s grace. There is nothing we can do that puts us beyond the reach of hope. God doesn’t give up. This is our hope.
I leave you, again if you were here Sunday, with this story. My son Warren loves playing video games (he gets that from me) and he gets extremely frustrated by them (sadly he gets that from me too). He annoys Caroline and me to no end with his whining about them. I take the phone away or turn off the PlayStation. I tell him to either stop letting the game bother him or stop playing. But he won’t. He is determined to prove his efforts to win aren’t futile. (Subject to futility anyone?) Staunching determined. He just won’t admit defeat. So there he is – in tears with puffy eyes and contorted limbs – playing. (I’m not exaggerating here. And this is what he does for fun?) And then I realized there is something of God in this. No creation isn’t a video game. God isn’t simply controlling us like a giant APP on God’s iPhone. But God is engaging us day after day hoping it all goes right, vexed that it doesn’t and yet unable to give up on us, unable to give up on creation, unable to imagine that it is not futile but in fact is the groaning and moaning of labor that is birthing something we cannot yet see but know to be a reality. So day after day God engage us again. Generation after generation God – lamenting the brokenness of creation – endeavors to work it towards good. And this – this God contorted and weeping with loving frustration is our hope, because the maker of all that exists is so determined to make it all work to good that God is not capable of giving up on anyone or anything.
We are not alone. We are bound together. We are the people of a God incapable of giving up on us. Thanks be to God. Amen.