Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Homily for Midweek Advent Service 2 (December 8, 2010)
“Christmas Gifts in Advent: The Gift of Hope” (Isaiah 60:1-2)
God has some Christmas gifts for you. During our time together these Wednesdays of Advent, we’re talking about gifts God the Father gives to us through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. The names of the gifts are the titles that have come to be associated with each of the candles on the Advent wreath … love, hope, joy, and peace. Tonight’s Christmas gift in Advent is “Hope.”
“I hope I get what I want for Christmas.” You’ve made it clear to your family what you want. You may have even offered them your “wish list.” Maybe you wrote it on a piece of paper. Maybe you entered it on Amazon.com. You wait excitedly for Christmas morning when you can finally open the packages with your name on them. There’s a part of you that expects to get what you asked for. On the other hand, maybe your wish list was too extravagant. Christmas morning arrives. After all the paper has been torn apart, after all the boxes have been opened, you are disappointed that you didn’t quite get that special item you were hoping for.
That’s how we usually think about “hope.” It’s an uncertain expectation about something to come in the future. Students think: “I hope I get an ‘A’ on my test.” Patients think: “I hope my treatment is going to work.” Party planners think: “I hope everyone can get along at our family gathering this year without all the usual bickering.” Religious people think: “I hope there’s a positive outcome for me in the afterlife.”
In Isaiah’s day, the people of the tribes of Israel had reason to give up hope. The northern kingdom of Israel had been shattered and the people were scattered by the Assyrians. This was God’s judgment over them because of their unbelief and idolatry. The southern kingdom of Judah was under the gun, so to speak, too. God warned them time and again that if they followed in the footsteps of their brethren to the north, the same judgment would happen to them. In fact, God promised that this would indeed come to pass by the hands of the Babylonians. They would be carried off into exile, far away from the land once promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. From afar, they would mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the place where Yahweh promised his gracious presence would dwell. You can see how there would be no reason to hope, but plenty of reasons to despair.
Yet even though God promised some dark days ahead, he also offers this shining promise through the prophet: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.” (Isa. 60:1-2) There are hopeful days ahead. Not only will a remnant return to the Promised Land. More importantly, the Promised One will come. The Messiah. The Savior. Immanuel. God with us. God's gracious presence dwelling in the Person of Jesus Christ. Shepherds will see his glory with their own eyes as they view him in his manger bed. Many will see his glory with their own eyes as he walks among them and teaches them and performs miracles. Many will see his glory with their own eyes as they view him on the cross, suffering and dying for the sins of the world, the thick darkness that covers all people. And many eyewitnesses will see his glory with their own eyes as they view the empty tomb where his body was laid and as they see and touch his risen body … the exclamation point following his accomplished work for the forgiveness of all and the promise of eternal life.
That’s hope you can really sink your teeth into. That’s hope you can hang onto with a firm grasp. This is hope as confident expectation. This is hope based on sure and certain promises. God has never failed to keep any of his promises. Why should we doubt when he says that something is going to happen? It may not happen right away. It may be years down the road. As St. Paul says in Romans 8, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom. 8:24-25)
That’s the way it was for the people in Isaiah’s day. A big part of hope is waiting patiently. As a matter of fact, in Spanish, the word for “hope” is esperanza. It happens to be one of my favorite words. It just sounds beautiful to my ears. Esperanza! The verb is esperar. It can mean “to hope,” but it can also mean “to wait.” Waiting is a big part of hoping. There may still be much to endure, even suffer. But wait. God is faithful. He will fulfill his promises for you.
Job knew this. Remember how much he suffered. Job lost everything … his fields and flocks and family. He was afflicted with painful sores all over his body. Yet he could declare, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” (Job 13:15) Much later, the prophet Jeremiah was instructed by the Lord to tell the people of Jerusalem not to fight against the Babylonians, but to willingly go with them off to Babylon. This was all part of God’s perfect plan for them. And so, the Lord gave them this beautiful promise through Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11) Moreover, Jeremiah himself witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, yet he was able to say, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)
You and I live in the light of God’s already-fulfilled promises in Christ. Our sins are forgiven completely through the shed blood of Christ at the cross. Jesus is risen and lives and reigns eternally. You and I have the sure and certain promise of eternal life and the resurrection of our bodies on the Last Day … or the transformation of our bodies if we are still alive when Jesus returns. God has “a future and a hope” in store for you. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases” for you. And so we wait in hope. Confident hope. Hope that assuredly knows that a bright, shining, light-filled, glorious future awaits even though your world seems dark right now. Sin, death, broken bodies, broken relationships, all bring darkness into our lives. But remember that because of the Babe of Bethlehem, the words of the prophet are for you today, too: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” The glory of the Lord rose upon you when you were brought to the font. The glory of the Lord rises upon you when you hear the Good News of Jesus proclaimed to you. The glory of the Lord rises upon you when you come to the altar to eat and drink your Savior’s body and blood.
Your Christmas wish list may be too extravagant. But true Christian hope trusts in God’s extravagant promises … promises of the full and free forgiveness of sins and life everlasting because of Christ’s finished work at the cross.
And so, we can say right along with the Psalmist, “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.” (Ps. 130:7)
We can sing with the hymnwriter, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” (LSB 575.1)
And we are blessed by St. Paul’s words from last Sunday’s Epistle reading from Romans 15: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13). Put the word “love” in there, and you’ve got all four of our “Christmas Gifts in Advent.” But we need to save “joy” and “peace” for the next two weeks.