Life-giving Hope

Jeremiah 29:11-13; 31:3,8-9; 33:14-16
1st Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert
December 2, 2012                         

I started this week in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood.   You know what I mean?   The kind of mood that makes you want to get away from everybody because they are either driving you crazy or you know you might soon say something that you will quickly regret.   What I’ve learned is that for me, being in the pit of despair is actually my lack of awareness of the life-giving hope all around me.   We can endure anything if we have hope – hope of relief, hope of comfort, hope of rescue, hope that things will get better.   That’s the kind of hope Jeremiah gives the Israelites, whose lives as exiles in Babylon were hard-pressed and discouraging.   If you can imagine the shock and destruction of 9/11 multiplied by leaders being removed and most of the population being forced out of the country to live in an unknown land among the very ones who destroyed your homeland, then you can understand how the Israelites felt.

We are reading three brief and beautiful passages from Jeremiah, words that help us to hope in the future God is bringing us, hope in the faithfulness of God’s love, hope in promises of God being fulfilled.   While we know Jeremiah was writing them to the Israelites 600 years before Jesus, we hear the overtones of the future God will bring in the life of Jesus, the righteous branch.


Jeremiah 29:11-13 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.

Jeremiah 31:3,8-9 I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.  8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here. 9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; 

Jeremiah 33:14-16  The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.  15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.   16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.   And this is the name by which it will be called: "The LORD is our righteousness."  (NRSV)

In 1963 Thomas Merton wrote an essay titled, “Advent: Hope or Delusion?”  Merton says, The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria… We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities….In Advent we celebrate the future coming and indeed the already present Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all the world’s problems and tragedies. Our Advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problems to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent…Our task is to seek and find Christ in our world as it is, and not as it might be. The fact that the world is other than it might be does not alter the truth that Christ is present in it and that His plan has been neither frustrated nor changed: indeed, all will be done according to His will. Our Advent is a celebration of this hope.

Our Advent is a reminder that even when you have an empty chair at your table in the holidays, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.    Even when your bank account is empty after the bills and before you shop, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.   

Even when your job search is endless and your sense of self-worth is lagging, there is hope in the God who keeps promises, the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.    There is still hope, even when you are estranged from your child or your parent or your spouse.   There is still hope even when the cancer is raging and you see no cure in sight.    There is still hope even when you’ve done something really foolish and you desperately need forgiveness or you need to forgive the other foolish one who hurt you.   There is still hope because we believe in a God who keeps promises, and this God did not just set the world turning and leave us alone.  This God came to us, to be one of us, God with us, Immanuel.    And so we have hope.   

Even if we free fall as a country off the fiscal cliff, we still have hope.  Why?    Because our hope is not in our Congress and our President, even if they were at their the very best bipartisan unity.   No, our hope is in the God, who came to us in Jesus Christ, the God, who said, “For surely I know the plans I have for you – plans for your peace, your shalom, your welfare – to give you a future with hope.”  Not just a future you can live with – a future with hope, with peace, with love, with promise.   That what God promises.    And our God keeps promises.

Even if our growing church, now one and half times as large as the median Presbyterian Church in the USA, finds itself pressured to secure a new home,  we will NOT lose hope because God has brought us too far to let us go now.   No, God has loved us with an everlasting love; God continues to be faithful to us.    God may bring us east or bring us west, north or south.   God may challenge us once again to dig into our pocketbooks and bank accounts to bring the vision of Peace to fruition.   But one thing I know – God is not forgetting about us now.    No, there are too many signs of God’s Spirit here.   People gathering faithfully for worship, service,  and learning each week.   People feeling loved and comfortable in church for the first time ever.   People being supported and upheld through difficult times.  People learning to live together in peace despite difference of political and social perspectives.   People learning to pray, to give, to live with a hopeful spirit.

God may bring us weeping, blind, or lame.   God may bring us worn out, broke, and blue, but I know God will bring us to those lovely brooks of water, quenching our thirst for hope.   God will bring along those straight paths of where we will no longer stumble;  God is going to give us a home Peace where we can live into our vision to be an intergenerational diverse community of fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ (JC) who reach out with the good news of Christ’s love, who grow strong in the service of God of neighbor, who send one another out with the joy of the Holy Spirit.    God is going to make it possible, even if we have to wander like the Israelites, God will help us to live out our mission to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus, building a community of Peace, and caring for the needs of others.    We have hope.

God entered the world as an infant and Herod began to ruthlessly aim to kill off all the baby boys.    Not an easy situation for Mary and Joseph, but they were already strong from the hope of believing the messages of angels rather than the critique of the world.    If God entered the world, courgeously willing to live in the danger zone like that, helpless as a tiny baby, we can live courageously in our times of weakness.   We can live with hope.

 (SLIDE)  And what is hope but hanging onto promise expectantly.   HOPE.  Hanging onto promises expectantly.   When we say we hope someone feels better is because we know the promise of God to heal people from grief and disease, to renew them in joy and love, and so that hope is grounded in promises which we have seen fulfilled.    When we say hope there will be peace between Israel and Palestine, peace in Syria, peace in all the troubled places in the world, we are hanging onto promises expectantly, because we have heard promise that one day there will be no more war.    We have seen reconciliation before, so we have hope.    When we say we hope that life will get better, that our heaviness of heart will be lifted, we expect it to happen, because we have seen it before.    We have watched the lives of others be renewed in vitality, so we have hope.   

When we say we have hope it is not because we see the end of the road in this current situation.   When we say that we have hope, it is not because we have an answer for all of life’s challenges.   When we say that we have hope, we are not diminishing the pain of the present moment.   But we are saying that we can wait expectantly because we trust in a God who keeps promises.    We rehearse the faithfulness of God over and over again so we can hang on through longest night, trusting that the sun will rise again.   After making the promise of a righteous branch which is to come, Jeremiah reminds those who have trouble believing that God’s covenant to restore their hope is as sure as God’s covenant with the day and the night.   Did the sun rise today?    There is hope.    There may not be any holly, jolly Christmas cheer.  So forget that part of the season.   Forget the Holly Jolly and get on with the Holy Jesus, in whom there is always hope.