Advent 2020: Hope
Psalm 126 Advent 2020 (Hope) Introduction: Today is the first day of Advent. If you aren't familiar with the term Advent, it means “coming” in Latin. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Advent helps to prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the arrival of Immanuel, God-with-us. It is the season in the church calendar where we remember both the coming of Jesus into the world as a helpless baby. But it is also where we remember his promise to come again to reign in power and glory and to make all things new. The four themes of Advent are Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Today we’re gonna talk about hope. Traditionally this is where Advent begins. In the first week of Advent the church takes a realistic look at the world around us, at the darkness, the sin, the evil, but also taking stock of our own lives - the darkness, sin and evil still within. And when we do so, we realize that we are a people and a world in desperate need of hope. We know what it is to hope (Kids, what are you hoping for?). Often in our modern use of it though we use hope in a negative way - I hope I get into this program. I hope I don’t get hurt. I hope I don't lose my job. I hope I get to go to Disneyland again someday. Essentially what we mean is we are wishing very strongly that something will happen or won’t happen, although you know it is not very likely When the Bible speaks of hope, it is speaking of hope in a sense of longing for what is certain to come. Peter calls Christians to set their hope fully on the grace that will be brought to them at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of the hope of glory. Christian hope always points us to the Day of the Lord - the judgment of all sin, evil and wrong and the ushering in of a new creation. The day when all sad things come untrue and God restores and makes everything new, beautiful and true once and for all. We can define biblical hope as full assurance, or strong confidence that God is going to do good to us, and this world in the future. What does hope have to do with Advent? As I said, Traditionally in the first week of Advent the church has taken a realistic look at the world around us, at all the darkness, the sin, the evil, but also taking stock of our own lives - the darkness, sin and evil still within. And when we do so, we realize that we are a people and a world in desperate need of hope. What or who can fix the deep brokenness and division of our world? I think that this year, maybe more than any other in our lifetime, has caused us to see the darkness and evil that is all around us Racism and hatred Destruction and disease Fraud (think ppp loan) and selfishness The simple fact of our post truth society... all around us feels like chaos and confusion. (We have also seen the evil and darkness within ourselves.) What or who can fix the brokenness of our own personal lives? We educate ourselves, we try to manage our vices, we go to therapy, we do self care and pampering - but for all of that we still experience inner brokenness by the sin and wrong we have done and the through the sin and wrong done to us. I could go on. But plain and simple we are a people in need of real hope. And that is what Advent is all about - waiting and looking for that deliverance, for that hope that can only be found in the return of Jesus the king. As Paul says, we are "waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform our lowly bodies to be made like his glorious body…”. "W.H. Auden writes, ‘Nothing can save us that is possible.’ The human race cannot expect to receive any lasting comfort from the world. The comfort that we so desperately need must come from somewhere else - in a burst of transcendent power breaking upon our ears from beyond our sphere altogether." - Fleming Rutledge, Advent Psalm 126 is not your typical Advent passage. But I believe that in it we find themes of the Advent spirit. We see both 1st and 2nd Advent themes happening here. This psalm comes from the post exilic period - after Israel had returned from their exile in Babylon - so no doubt it is written from a perspective of devastation, bereavement, demonic victory and darkness over God's people..into exile they go.....waiting, waiting and waiting and then suddenly - salvation and restoration breaks forth!! And the celebration begins. You'll notice there is the reflection on the gracious restoration of God's people. The Psalmist says God restored his people, he restored their lives, their possessions, their land, their culture, their home, their worship at Jerusalem - it was like a dream, too good to be true, they were pinching themselves.. - it's a miracle. And it was - God’s deliverance, his salvation at each stage in history is nothing short of a gracious, generous miracle on his part. It is totally undeserved. You see the wonder and excitement that God's visitation brought to the people who were once in darkness and despair - laughter and joy; singing and celebration. Even the surrounding nations saw their good fortune and prosperity - God has done great things for them.. But verse 4 brings in Second Advent - “Restore our fortunes, O LORD!” The people are once again waiting, waiting for restoration Waiting once again for that miraculous breaking in! Waiting for the return of the king, waiting for the banishment and judgment of all evil - waiting for the healing of our broken world and our broken lives... We are waiting. We are living in the tension of the already and not yet. As the Psalmist looked back on God’s previous deliverance it gave him confidence of God’s future deliverance. In Advent we do the same, as the days around us grow darker both physically and metaphorically we remember that at a bleak and hopeless point in history - “The people who walked in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the shadow of death a light had dawned!” This reflection on the first coming of Jesus Christ, gives us confidence in his future return. "The Church lives in Advent. That is to say, the church lives between two advents. Jesus Christ has come; Jesus Christ will come. We do not know the day or hour. If you find this tension almost unbearable at times, then you understand the Christian life." - Fleming Rutledge, Advent For now we wait, we live in this tension but we do so in hope. What does it look like to wait in hope? Our psalm pictures a sowing of tears, and a reaping of shouts of joy! What does that even mean? It means that we don't just stop the labor of the kingdom because the sin and darkness around us is too great (even though it sometimes feels that way). It also means that we don't just give up because we ourselves can never usher in the kingdom of God - it means that we labor for the kingdom, with tears for the state and brokenness of the world. It means we labor/work because we have HOPE, we have confidence, that it will not always be so - that Christ will return in power and glory and he will make all things new! "We celebrate the coming of the Christ Child, what God has already done. And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God's reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work, and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise we are in a world pregnant with hope, and as we live in the expectation of the coming of God's kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world." - Common Prayer. Closing: As the Lord Jesus came before, so he will come again. He came in loneliness and weakness; he will return in power and glory. We are awaiting the appearing of the Lord, the righteous judge and in that waiting, we labor and lament, we work and weep, we pray and prophesy, we love and suﬀer long and when he appears we shall not be disappointed. As Paul says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, it hasn’t even entered into our imaginations the things God has prepared for those who love him!” Advent is meant to take us from darkness and despair, to take a good, long, hard look at the world in all its brokenness, all its evil and it’s wrong and then to turn our eyes, ears, mouths and hearts to the Lord who has promised to one day judge in righteousness and truth. We look to the one who promises to make all things new. In Advent we aren’t just looking forward to Christmas day - a one day of peace, comfort and hope against the 364 other days of darkness and despair - we are looking to and longing for the ultimate hope, peace, joy, love and fulfillment of the new creation! May the Lord teach us and increase our love, and our hope in him as we enter into the tension of this Advent season.