November 28, 2021
"You, O Lord, are My Hope"
Rev. Scott Landis
I typically begin my sermon on the first Sunday of Advent by trying to convince those in attendance not to leave the church upon hearing the words read from the scriptures for this day. Advent always begins on a rather ominous note describing what could very well be the end of the world as we know it. I quickly try and defend the readings encouraging worshippers to “hang in there – stay with us – there is much more to the story that’s important to hear and it gets better.
Perhaps you felt some bewilderment as you listened to Sue read those rather disconcerting words, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
These words sound foreign to us, don’t they? Or do they?
In the past, I would try and make excuses for these harsh-sounding words – assuming them to be irrelevant to our situation. I would further explain that they were intended for the time of Jesus but have little to do with our lives. And then I would try to glean a message from them that might have some application to our story. But as I read them this year, I began to wonder. They sounded more familiar to me than in the past. And so, I sat with them – and let them speak to me differently than in previous years as I prepared for this first Sunday of Advent – the Sunday of Hope. This year, I think, calls for a different approach. A renewed perspective of a kind that only God can provide. [Pause]
And so, let’s be honest. This past year and a half has been a doozy hasn’t it? Not only have we endured the worst pandemic we have ever experienced in our lifetime: we have seen the economy on a roller coaster – separating the top 1% from those who can barely scrape together enough money to put food on the table at an alarming rate – and the gap that is widening more and more each day.
We have felt the devastation of political division through a tumultuous election culminating in an insurrection that claimed lives in our Nation’s Capitol, an event which could have been prevented AND could have been much worse.
We have witnessed gross inequities and blatant injustices as we have seen the ugliness of racism reach new heights and white privilege become further solidified.
And, we have seen the roaring waves of hurricanes, wildfires, and floods as our earth responds to the continued abuse of humanity’s seeming neglect and lack of care. All of which makes the predictions in Luke’s apocalypse sound increasingly familiar.
Maybe it’s high time we pay attention to these stern words for they have become our reality. But I want to focus less today on the events to look at how they are impacting our lives. [Pause]
What, I believe, we are not paying close enough attention to is the profound impact all of this is having upon the soul of our nation, as well as the souls of each one of us. We have lived – at one level – in chronic state of systemic tension and unavoidable fear. It’s a phenomenon none of us can escape.
How we are living right now is simply not sustainable. Families have been divided over whether or not to gather around Thanksgiving tables based on the individual members’ vaccine status. Parents are torn over the safety of sending their children to school OR whether to have them vaccinated fearing something may emerge in the future that could have been prevented. Each week we ring our hands over whether to allow more people to sit inside our church, what’s the safest method of distributing communal elements, or whether we should hug, shake, wear masks or stay within our respective 6-foot safety bubbles.
None of this is natural or normal nor are our fears unfounded. Too many have experienced firsthand the devastation of this disease – the results of which we will live with for the rest of our lives. And there is so much more that we are carrying all of which is affecting our soul. We desperately need a word of hope – and low and behold Jesus offers us that in Gospel of Luke.
After a dire account of what is occurring in the world, he tells them a little parable reminding them that no matter how bad things appear – God is breaking into human history – and with God comes both hope and healing. On that we can depend.
He reminds them of the fig tree. It may be naked – bare – right now, but as soon as it sprouts leaves, you can see for yourselves that summer is already near. He went on to say, “That’s the way it is with God’s kingdom. Look for the signs. They are all around you. When you see them, they will remind you – your redemption is near.
This is not a story of condemnation or damnation of any sort – this is our wake-up call. “Open your eyes. Look carefully,” Jesus exhorts followers. “God is among us and manifesting in so many ways. [Pause]
Today we begin an intentional walk toward a manger that will become for us, once again, the quintessential sign of hope – God’s hope for our lives. This hope arrives in the form of an infant whose birth and life will transform the world.
And so, today we are so bold to witness to that hope by lighting the candle of mana`olana – hope – which becomes a vital expression of our faith in the coming of our Savior. And we receive a simple meal. The same meal that Christians have eaten together for centuries which reminds us of that same Savior’s sacrificial love – a love we are challenged to embody in our relationships with all others.
And we witness to that hope in words of poem that becomes our song for this day:E hele mai Emanuela, E hoʻola i kou poe kanaka
Makou ʻuhane a ʻiʻinihei ia ʻOe,
Ka Mesia ke Keiki o ke Akua
E hauʻoli E hauʻoli Emanuela
E hele mai ana ia makou
O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you O (Keawala`i) Israel.
May those become our words of encouragement, our hope as we begin this journey of Advent once again – and may that hope bring healing to our souls.