Follow Me – Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Go Tell: Tell of the Hope within You
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2022
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Remembrance of what God has done in the past gives us hope for the future. Let us pray:
O God of all peoples and places, open our hearts to hear again this ancient and familiar story. And, like those shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, surprise us also by your grace, and fill us all with your joy and peace, so that, in this season, whatever difficulties we may face, we may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Hear the Word of God from Luke 2:8-20
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
As individuals, these shepherds were probably hoping for the same things we hope for. One of the young shepherds was no doubt hoping that the girl next door would notice how he had grown and matured, how he was starting to grow facial hair like his older cousins.
Another probably hoped that his papa, his Abba, would get over his serious illness. At least one was probably concerned about whether his family would have enough food and resources to make it through the winter. Still another hoped that his sheep would be safe from wild animals and that the mother sheep would soon deliver many healthy lambs.
As individuals, those shepherds in the fields had similar concerns to you and to me. As a people, those shepherds in the fields were waiting and hoping for a Messiah, for a warrior who would rise up and deliver their nation from the oppression of the Romans.
They were waiting and looking for a righteous king who would defeat all their enemies and provide security for their families. Little did they know that their Savior would be born into the world as a weak and vulnerable child, armed with nothing but love. When I think about those young shepherds in the fields living in the hillside caves outside of Bethlehem, I think about those young soldiers, both Russian and Ukrainian, who are out in the fields today, cold, at risk, afraid, not knowing when this terrible conflict might end, not knowing when they may have the chance to go home and hug their loved ones.
Those soldiers may not have many reasons to be optimistic, but I do pray that they have hope. I do not imagine that those Russian soldiers have much optimism that Putin cares what happens to them, but I do pray that they will know hope this Christmas. I do not imagine that those Ukrainian soldiers have much optimism that the NATO powers, the USA and its allies, will collaborate enough to help bring peace to their land, but I pray that they will have hope this Christmas.
Leroy Seat, a pastor and professor who spent 38 years in mission work in Japan, keeps up written correspondence with many. One of his good friends recently wrote to him, Given the conditions of this old world, “My usual optimism is fading.” Leroy Seat responded, “I am sorry to hear that your optimism is waning – but that is not necessarily a bad thing, for it is better to be realistic than optimistic. (But) don’t give up hope; there is a difference between hope and optimism.”
So, can a person actually be hopeful but not optimistic? The definition from Dictionary.com for optimism: “A disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”
By contrast, “hope means to work for, and to wait for, something with the confident expectation…that it will at some point, sooner or later, be fulfilled. Optimism is an aspect of a person’s disposition or temperament. People with a sunny temperament are usually optimists; people with dark dispositions are mostly pessimists. Hope, though, is a theological virtue, Seat claims.
Seamus Heaney, an Irish poet, wrote (1939-2013): “Hope is not optimism, which expects things to turn out well, but (hope is) something rooted in the conviction that there is good worth working for.”
Jim Wallis, noted Christian author, wrote in his 2019 book Christ in Crisis, that hope “is not simply a feeling, or a mood. … It is a choice, a decision, an action based on faith. … Hope is the engine of change.
Hope is the energy of transformation.” Later in that book, Jim Wallis reiterates what he has often said: “Hope means believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change.”
So, yes, a person can be hopeful even if they are not optimistic. Dr. Cornel West, or Brother West, as he his known, was the first African American to graduate from Princeton University with a PhD degree in philosophy. Cornel West has written some twenty books, and has taught at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, and more recently at Union Theological Seminary. Brother West, often controversial in his views, has spent his career seeking to keep alive the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.
“White America,” he writes, “has been historically weak-willed in ensuring racial justice and has continued to resist fully accepting the humanity of blacks.” He went on to say this has created many “degraded and oppressed people hungry for identity, meaning, and self-worth.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornel_West)
Brother West tweeted back in January 2013: “I cannot be optimistic but I am a prisoner of hope.” “A key difference between optimism and hope is that optimism doesn’t demand anything of us (we just think everything is going to be all right!), but hope entails effort as we endeavor to actualize that for which we hope.”
A former US President wrote: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” Barack Obama
You may or may not be very optimistic about your life’s circumstances this year. You may not be very optimistic about the condition or direction of our country. You may or may not be optimistic about global peace or the global economy. Nevertheless, you can still be hopeful for the future.
If you have faced grave disappointments, then you can continue working for better results in the future. Regardless of what has happened in your life, you can continue to be hopeful, believing that things will get better later, if not sooner. This is because hope is a theological virtue; this is because we trust in the “God of hope.” We trust in the God who provided “a way where there was no way” in the Exodus from Egypt, the God who brought the people home from Exile in Babylon, today’s Baghdad, when all was lost.
When it had been some 400 years since there was some word from God to Israel, God who sent the very incarnation of God’s self to nurture within the people hope, peace, love, and joy.
So what are you hoping for this Advent season? Are you hoping for the girl or the boy next door to notice you? Are you hoping for your loved one to get over a serious illness? Are you hoping for enough resources for the coming months? Are you hoping for the security of your family?
What are we hoping for as a people? Those shepherds were at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Their hope was not other worldly, not focusing on hope in eternal life beyond this life. Their hope was earthly, grounded, and it had to do with the basics of food and shelter, of protection from soldiers, of opportunity to improve their family’s situation.
No matter what we hope for, we hope in God. Psalm 42 cries out: Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. The good news of God is that my life and your life and our community life does not all depend on us.
We are hopeful because we remember what God has done in the past. We are aware that there is a power far greater than ours at work in the world. We can participate in this work and do our part, grateful that it is not entirely dependent upon us and our limited resources.
This Advent season, let us hope for the earthly good for all of God’s children. Let us hope that those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum will have shelter and enough to eat.
Let us hope that our loved ones will be safe and that any who are ill will find healing. I will close with a prayer from Romans 15:13 (NIV):
“May the God of hope fill (us) with all joy and peace as we trust in God, so that we may overflow with hope by the power of the Spirit.”
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Prayers of the People
I am hoping for less children and teenagers dying from gun violence;
I am hoping for the epidemic of suicide among young adults to be abated.
I am hoping for all those who are hungry, both around the corner
And around the globe, to have enough food to eat.
I am hoping for the unhoused to find shelter and security.
I am hoping for peace in Ukraine, for those young Russian and Ukrainian soldiers
to be able to go home and hug their families and to stay warm through the cold winter.
I am hoping for those who are grieving to know comfort.
I am hoping for those who are anxious to know real peace.
I am hoping for those who are afraid to know
I am hoping for those who feel unloved to experience genuine love again.
I am hoping for more people to discover the hope, peace, love and joy of Jesus Christ,
To experience the welcome and fellowship and meaning
of being part of a healthy congregation over time.
I am hoping for changed hearts, especially for those who keep troubling the waters.
Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary,
that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it,
and to work for it, and to fight for it.