“What Can’t Wait? Hope Can’t Wait!”
Luke 2:1-5; Romans 5:105
First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2019
The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that,
but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s
love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
There is something hopeful about Christmas decorations.
Every year, we dutifully pull the boxes out of the attic or out of a closet.
We place trees in the middle of our dens and adorn the trees with glowing lights.
We light up the outside of our homes with simple candles in the windows
or, for some, huge displays of reindeer and Santa’s sleighs.
Many will place a revered manger scene in a prominent place in their home,
the small figurines reminding us of a wondrous birth and shepherds and wise men.
The first Advent decoration I usually hang at my house is a multi-pointed Moravian star.
The star is a subtle reminder of the star that directed the magi of the East,
the star that hovered over Bethlehem and caught the attention of the shepherd boys,
the star that signaled a new day had begun with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
Another decoration that I enjoy each year pulling out each year is a small Santa Claus, with hat in hand,
kneeling before the crèche of baby Jesus. The child smiling and holding out his hands,
as if blessing the bearded man.
I think this particular decoration reminds me of my childhood,
of Decembers when Santa was important, but certainly not the most important person in the room.
Christmas decorations are often about remembrance, and remembrance can engender hope.
During Advent, we remember the birth of Jesus Christ,
and we also remember of the wonder of being a child in December.
Christmas trees and lights and ornaments and certainly services of worship
have to do with wonder, wondering if the world can truly live in peace,
wondering if families and communities can learn to live with joy and love.
During this Advent season, we are utilizing materials from a group called Sanctified Art.
This creative team of young pastors and artists comes together each year
to provide resources for congregations, to encourage our celebration of the season.
Our Advent devotional, candle lighting liturgy, Advent calendar and other resources
have been provided by this group.
Some of you will remember Lisle Gwynn Garrity, one of the members of Sanctified Art,
who painted on a large canvas during worship on the first two Sundays of Advent a few years ago.
The Sanctified Art Creative Team wrote (see sanctifiedart.org):
“Advent is a season of waiting, but is idle waiting what God wants of us?
In preparation for the coming Messiah, we wonder together— what things can’t wait?
What demands our immediate attention?
What requires our work and preparation?
What is it that God can’t wait for?…
We hope that these Advent resources might awaken you to the ways
God can’t wait to create hope, peace, joy, and love.”
One thing that cannot wait is the plight of people who are suffering.
Did you know that “65 million individuals have been forcibly displaced worldwide
because of persecution, conflict, violence, or human rights violations”?
(per the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR)
65 million!? Ten times the population of metro Atlanta! displaced due to war and violence;
due to persecution and violations of human rights.
Can we even imagine a world with no more war?
Can we imagine a world with no more bombings, no more refugee camps,
no more long lines of immigrants seeking asylum?
Can we imagine a world where everyone could live peaceably and thrive economically
in their own villages and cities and homes?
Sarah Are, one of the team members of Sanctified Art, wrote:
“Someone once told me that hope was naïve…
for hope requires us to believe in a better day—even when this one is falling apart.
Hope looks the 24-hour news cycle in the face,
Hope looks our low self-esteem in the face,
And (hope) declares at low tide that the water will return…
for to hope is to believe in God’s ability to bring about a better day…”
The prophets were convinced that God is able to bring about a better day.
As Isaiah proclaimed long ago:
In days to come, God will establish the fulfillment of the vision of God’s reign of peace.
On that day, God will teach all peoples and all nations God’s ways,
so that all people may walk in God’s paths.
And in that day “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks
and nation shall not lift up war against nation and neither shall they learn war anymore.”
On that day, the day on which God’s kingdom will come, on earth as it is in heaven,
then aircraft carriers will no longer rain down destruction,
but will become vehicles for assistance after natural disasters.
On that day, the billions of dollars spent on fighter planes will be re-invested in instruments of peace.
The places that train fighters to kill will become schools of truth-seeking and reconciliation.
John Lennon once sang: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal Dreams, wrote:
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for.
And the most you can do is live inside that hope.
Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
Hope is energizing. Hope motivates and encourages. Hope springs eternal. Hope does not disappoint.
Tom Bodett is an American author, voice actor, and radio host.
Since 1986 he has been the spokesman for a motel chain, ending commercials with the phrase,
“I’m Tom Bodett for Motel 6, and we’ll leave the light on for you.”
There is something hopeful, even downright biblical, about a light being left on for you,
about a place of refuge on a dark night, about a place of welcome after a long day’s journey.
Tom Bodett once claimed: “They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world:
someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
What is it that you hope you for this Advent season?
For what does your soul long, when you pause and think about it?
“Remember, Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Stephen King
Howard Zinn, an American historian and playwright, was the chair of the history and social sciences
at Spelman College, and later a political science professor at Boston University.
Zinn wrote extensively about the Civil Rights Movement and about the anti-war movement.
Zinn claimed: “TO BE HOPEFUL in bad times is not just foolishly romantic.
It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty,
but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.
If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.
If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—
where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act,
and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
We can live and act now according to our hope, even in the face of great obstacles.
Pablo Neruda, a Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet and politician,
published bold poetry during the time of Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’etat,
at a time when many persons were being disappeared if they spoke against the government.
In 1973, Pablo Neruda died a mysterious death from heart failure,
a death later determined as “highly likely” to have been ordered by Pinochet himself.
Neruda once wrote: “(They) can cut all the flowers but (they) cannot keep Spring from coming.”
“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger,
we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream.
And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.”― Michael Jackson
I will close with a poem by Dawna Markova. Markova is the author of Random Acts of Kindness
and other books, including Reconcilable Differences: Connecting in a Disconnected World.
Her poem is called “Fully Alive”:
“I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
To allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
To live so that which
came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.”
This Advent season, there are many things that can wait.
I can wait for the traffic to clear. I can wait to go to the shopping mall.
But I cannot wait for hope.
Living with hope is so closely related to receiving the peace, love and joy of Jesus
that we seek and that the world so desperately needs.
Hope in the Lord, my friends, for hope does not disappoint us. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church, Decatur, Georgia