"When Hope Translates Into Confidence"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 3, 2006
Psalm 25:1-12, Isaiah 52:7-10
In order to appreciate what hope meant to the writer of our lesson today, we have to travel back in time. We have to imagine ourselves being in a setting where our cities have been destroyed. We have to daydream about living in a time when we have no voice in who governs us. We have to imagine having no economic power because we are slaves in another land. Try to consider what life would be like if our activities were monitored and controlled by someone else.
Chapters 40-55 represent a sharp break with the earlier prophet Isaiah, who was addressing a Jewish State from Judah in the second half of the eighth century BC. The author of our lesson is an unknown writer communicating to Jews who had been uprooted from their homeland and transplanted in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC. An earlier editor of the book of Isaiah put the two writers together.
He wrote, “How wonderful it is to see a messenger coming across the mountains, bringing good news, the news of peace. Break into shouts of joy, you ruins of Jerusalem! The Lord will rescue his city and comfort his people. The Lord will use his holy power; he will save his people, and all the world will see it.”
Who among us can identify with hope that looks forward to the restoration of our many losses? We live in an age where the gratification of our perceived needs is often our greatest hope. If we are not satisfied with our 36-inch television screen we can purchase a larger television that hangs on the wall. If we can no longer live with our current spouse, we are free to find a newer version of what we imagine a more ideal mate should be. If we can no longer tolerate our job, we can find another one where people are more appreciative of what we do and where employees are more like family.
What is fascinating about our generation is that we enjoy the power of choice. Each choice can dramatically change the direction and quality of our lives. In the author’s day, people could only hope for a better tomorrow. They did not have the luxury or the flexibility to decide anything for themselves. They looked to God to do for them what they could not.
The beginning of Advent is a time for remembering and rehearsing old theological themes leading up to the birth of Jesus. We travel this path every year. What do we want to consider this time that might prove helpful during our brief journey to Bethlehem?
The ancient Jews hoped that God would change their world for them. Even though a covenant with God was involved, the Jews clearly looked to Yahweh to act decisively on their behalf. For example, they longed to return to their homeland. They dreamed of one day rebuilding their Temple. These were tasks they could not accomplish by themselves.
They based their thinking on well-rehearsed memories of God who they believed liberated them from their Egyptian taskmasters under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. They remembered the stories about their ancestors walking through the sea on dry land, ancestors who moments later watched as the sea rolled back into its place swallowing Pharaoh’s charioteers. God had won the day for them. God was looked upon as their powerful protector and guardian.
There is a quality about Christianity that makes our orientation toward life quite distinctive. Great civilizations like Babylon, Persia, Egypt, Greece and Rome had all graced the world’s stage. Most had come and gone. Jesus was bringing a new understanding about life that had nothing to do with a nation-state or politics. His consciousness was not grounded in this world. His message was about reframing the spirits of those who live here.
When we examine where Jesus lived, Roman soldiers occupied the land. We learn that he had no place to lay his head. We discern that he did not fit into any of the religious patterns that were available among the Jews. He never complained about such things. When he spoke, his message was about qualities of spirit that had nothing to do with worldly possessions, financial security, personal power or what Caesar did or did not do.
The hope Jesus brought to his listeners was very different. If they followed him, they would overcome their need to chase and obtain the fruits of this world in order to feel blessed by God. Very few people understood this message. Their focus was on God giving them a promised land flowing with milk and honey, of worshipping God in their Temple, of following the teachings of the Torah and of remembering their past when God acted on their behalf. They wanted to fashion their own political power base perhaps reminiscent of the days of King David.
Jesus had those memories too, but he pointed to an awareness where the lion would one day lie down with the lamb, a metaphor that had little to do with animals. His teachings had to do with the quality of consciousness among those who lived here, a consciousness that would allow traditional enemies to dwell together in peace.
While most of our symbols are vastly different from people who lived 3,000 years ago, our focus is not too far removed from their same material goals. When our world is not the way we want it, we grow unhappy. When others who share life’s stage with us do not appreciate us, do not fill our cups with admiration or inspire and nurture us, how quickly many of us turn away from them. When others violate us with their words, deeds, attitudes and thoughts, how often we respond with smoldering resentment – a thought pattern that literally poisons us. Have I-pods, new translations of the Scriptures and instant messaging made our goals for life any different from those of people who lived in our distant past?
When we understand what Jesus taught, we will no longer succumb to temptations inspired by the more attractive and preferred forms of this world. We will no longer allow the world’s childish ways to mold us into its likeness.
Hopeful people can often be brought to despair when their dreams for a more wholesome environment vaporize. Only when hope translates into total confidence in God’s presence within us will we find ourselves unwavering in our newly acknowledged identities. We are angels in the flesh who are visiting the earth to bring sight to the blind. This is the mission statement of discipleship.
We have a choice. We can either be molded by this world or we can use the qualities of spirit to teach the world how to sing. Let go of your hope if the energy pattern you have created translates into seeking only more improved versions of what this world offers. Remember, every aspect of our physical lives is constantly changing. Building your house here is like constructing it on shifting sand.
Instead, accept with confidence the person God created you to be and let that life show. When we base our hope on this understanding, we will awaken and discover that we are living with the very distinctive consciousness Jesus came here to share with humanity. He did invite us to follow him. During Advent, let us do just that.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Loving God, we enter these moments of worship, knowing how healing Advent can be for all of us. Our homes, churches, stores and offices become transformed. As our external world celebrates Jesus’ birth with decorations and ornaments, soften our minds and hearts, quiet our fears and resentments and cause us to release those thought patterns that dull our sensitivities. Help us to remain in love with being alive. Lift our eyes beyond this world so that we might be inspired by the hope Jesus pointed to with his life. Amen.