We experience hope in many different ways. When you guess at a multiple-choice question...you hope that you guess right. If you ever smiled at someone you’re attracted to… you do so hoping they’ll smile back. And what kid has ever made a Christmas wish list and not hoped to get everything on it?
Hope is applicable in nearly every aspect of life. We hope we get into our first choice college. We hope a company reads our resume and hires us. We hope our kids turn out the way we hope they would.
Which leads me to this next point. Each time we hope, we can pretty much assume that there will be a time of waiting. Hope and waiting go hand-in-hand. We wait for the test to be graded, the resume to be read, or the kids to eventually behave.
Sometimes what we hope for is quickly resolved, the person immediately smiles back at you. Other times it’s painfully long – leaving us with a sense of longing or hopelessness. Can anything good come out of hopelessness?
The stories of Advent are not of sugarplums and toys that spring to life. They are, as my friend Dawn suggests, “stories from the soil of human struggle and vistas of broken dreams.” Yet in the bleakest of circumstances, Jeremiah offers hope when it seems all hope is lost.
Held captive in Babylon, God’s people are tired, angry and afraid. They’ve watched their homes be reduced to ash. And their beloved Temple completely destroyed. And then they are dragged off and forced to live in a foreign land, and ruled by corruption and injustice. They cry out in anguish and pain, hoping God hears them, but feeling completely hopeless to say the least. They abandoned God and perhaps believed God abandoned them too.
With all the mess that’s going on in our country and around the world, you too might feel like one of these ancient captives, trapped in a world devoid of God and wondering if there’s any hope left.
But the words of Jeremiah reminds us that whatever is going on in life, whatever is bringing you down or causing you grief and pain, whatever people might be inflicting on you, the days are surely coming, when the promise to God’s people will be fulfilled.
If God’s promise is real, then so too is our hope. Salvation is coming. But we have to wait – with either a feeling of hopelessness or hopefulness to keep us company.
I remember the day I sat around waiting for the surgeon to come into the examination room to look at the cancer that had bloomed in my throat. His schedule was full that day, but the office staff was able to fit me in. They were kind enough to give us a private room to wait in. And wait we did. For over four hours I sat there with Kathleen and my dad – hoping and waiting.
I tried to use that time to prepare myself for the reality that was to come. A reality I didn’t want to face. My head was swimming with all sorts of emotions and thoughts of despair. But, believe it or not, my heart was reasonably calm. I knew the promise God made to me. I knew it was real. I knew in my heart that no matter the outcome, I would be okay.
Being present with God in that room helped me realize that I am God’s beloved child. I am an heir to the promised salvation of Jesus Christ. And so are you. We have real hope we can count on, because God’s presence is already in us and all around us. God has never abandoned us, even if we have abandoned God.
“Sometimes what God does in the waiting room of our lives is more important than our future...our part is not to figure out God’s path for us, but to trust God while we’re on it” (Roberie, 2015) This is active waiting – being present with God in the now as we “wait for the second coming of Christ before we celebrate the first.”
Which leads us to why Advent is an important time for us and for today's church.
Advent is a time to hope. If we believe in our hearts what God says is true, then we must also believe in God’s greatest revelation – the greatest gift given to the world on that first Christmas morning. Through Jesus Christ, hope comes alive and walks with us, and heals us; teaches us how to love and care for each other without fear or hesitation. It frees us to give of ourselves faithfully, knowing we’ve already attained our reward.
Advent is also a time to wait. If we believe God’s promises are real, then we can wait with joyful expectation...trusting in God and being with God, knowing our future is already secure. The hope that Advent brings is essential to growing the faith that frees us to travel the road upon which we are walking.
Advent is a time to fully participate in God’s eternal vision of peace by “executing justice and righteousness in the land.” Even as his world came crashing down, Jeremiah pushed his people to see God’s future, and to continue to lean on the promises that God made to them and their ancestors. As we actively wait through Advent, we too must not lose sight of what Jesus has called us to do, to stand up for justice and seek peace, while clinging to God’s righteousness and promise. No matter how dark the world might seem, there is still work to be done.
Advent is a gift for each of us. If we believe God means what God says, then we know Jesus is our salvation. Our hope is not based on what we’ve done, but on what God has done and is doing through Christ Jesus – the infinite goodness and mercy of God who is with us.
Jesus is the grace given to anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord. He is the promise and the proof that God has never left us in the dark or ignored our cries. Instead God came to be with us, in the flesh, and suffered alongside us and celebrated with us. Jesus, our Emmanuel, is God’s gift to the world. The gift we get to open again, and again.
We can always hold on to hope because we know something greater has come. And something greater is coming agian. We just have to wait, anticipating and trusting in a promised future despite our current circumstance.
Whenever you feel discouraged, especially when you feel despair over some wrong in your life, remember that God is always waiting for us – here and now – with unconditional love because God’s promise is real.
And so we can actively wait and participate through the darkest of days because we know how the story of life ends and how it begins again – with Jesus the Christ, our Emmanuel, and God’s redemptive gift to the world.
Advent is a time to remember that Jesus is our hope, our joy, our love and our peace. He is light that that breaks through and overcomes the darkness of the world. That alone is something worth waiting for.
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett and Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Keating, Thomas. Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit. (Lantern Books; 2007) pp. 71-73.
Polter, Julie. A Whirlwind in a Fire. Sojourners. December 2018.
Roberie, Joshua. Relevent Magazine. Nov 17, 2015. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/when-god-leaves-you-waiting (accessed Nov 25, 2015).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”