Sunday, December 9, 2012

Being People of Hope

Second  Sunday in Advent
Populus Zion
December 9, 2012
If we began the Church Year honed in on God’s grace, today we continue it in hope. In the Epistle for today Paul says that “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” The history Scripture lays out of the people of God is a history of hope. Constantly pointing them back to what God has done so that they may look forward to what He will do. One thing that should characterize us as Christians, as God’s people, is hope. We need to be people of hope. When the world sees us holding on to the belief that our Lord will return in glory it sees people who are deluded. Or who just need something to hold on to. But the Bible calls it hope and we hold on to it because what our Lord says to us has proven more reliable than what the world has said to us.

And so Paul concludes his Epistle for today with a benediction: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” We don’t just hold out hope, we abound in it. Paul calls our God the God of hope. God gives hope. Just as He is the God of love and the God of power and the God of peace and the God of joy He is the God of hope. He loves us and gives us love. He is powerful and gives us strength. And He gives us hope. Love and joy and peace and strength are standard fare we expect from God. But hope is a little tougher to get a handle on. How exactly does hope help us out? Why not just give us the goods right now instead of expecting us to wait and rely on Him to fulfill His promise?

This is what we learn today as we move into the Church Year. To begin the Church Year we see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Christ is carried into that place where He will accomplish all that is necessary for salvation. This is how we are taught grace. Grace is God giving to everyone what they do not deserve, which is eternal salvation. He does this out of pure love and mercy. Our sin and guilt are dealt a death blow on Calvary. That’s why the Church Year begins this way, because without this there is nothing to talk about. There is no hope, no ultimate victory, no ultimate purpose to life. But with this there is hope. That’s why we move on, then, in hope. It’s why we settle in for the long haul and say, “We know what our Lord has done, now we go forward seeing Him carrying it out to its ultimate realization.”

Again, to the world this is living in a fantasy world. But don’t we yearn for something more? Don’t we long to see greater glory than what this world offers? Yes, we do, and that is what God provides. That we don’t want to experience any suffering or any waiting shows that we’re still trapped in our worldly ways of thinking. To break us out of that our Lord has to give us hope. If you have a little child you want the very best for him or her. You want them to have everything good you could possibly give them, but you don’t dump it all on them at once. You give them what they need. You guide them as they grow. You teach them and help them see that patience is not just a virtue but vital to their growth and life. You may not think of it this way, but what you are doing is giving them hope.

You are teaching your child to be a person of hope. Not wanting everything now. Or at least, not always acting on their wants. Being restrained, circumspect. Stepping back and looking ahead in hope, knowing that not getting everything now is actually better than all of it being dumped on them at once. As we grow from childhood to adulthood we continue to learn and grow. We see that this never stops. As adults we continue to need to live in hope. One way we as a people gathered in a Christian congregation can see this is in how we live lives of stewardship.

Have you ever thought about why, if it’s so important that God has His people gather together so that they may receive His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and be equipped by Him to make known the Gospel and serve others, that He doesn’t just make it very possible, very easy to do? Instead, we struggle. We have belt-tightening budget meetings. We are called upon to give offerings so that the work of the Church can continue. God is the God of all power, is He not? Does it really have to be so tough for a Christian congregation to get by and do the work of the Church?

Yes, it does. And the reason why is not because God can’t do it another way. It’s because He won’t, in the same way we wouldn’t dump everything on a child but instead teach, and lead, and guide, and give as necessary. He does it because He is the God of hope and is teaching us to be people of hope. We probably never think of commitment and the giving of our offerings in terms of hope. Maybe we should. Maybe we should stop thinking in terms of giving our offerings because it’s what we’re supposed to do and begin thinking of it in terms of what we simply do as people of hope. Hope is sorely misunderstood in our culture and I’m afraid in the culture of the Church as well. We think of hope as something that might be, and boy, will it be great if it ends up coming about. That’s not what hope is. At least, it’s not what Paul is talking about in the Epistle reading. It’s not what the Bible is teaching us when it teaches us that we are given hope by our Lord.

In giving our time, talents, and treasure we do it not out of obligation but out of hope. When our flesh says, “What’s the big deal?”, hope calls to us from the distant future and says, “It’s eternally significant.” When we are tempted by fears, realistic and natural, that we won’t be able to make it financially, the God of Hope calls to us and says, “Even though your circumstances look bleak, I see the whole of history and the whole of your life and I have you in my care.” That’s hope. It’s certain because God’s word is certain.

Hope is not “I hope it’s going to happen,” it’s “I know it’s going to happen even though I don’t see it yet.” Hope is looking at our circumstances and not bemoaning the fact that they look bleak, but rather seeing them through the lens of what our Lord has told us about them. It’s holding out hope, not in the hopes that what He said is true, but in the knowledge and certainty that what He said is true.

Each of you has come here today with various trials and struggles. Some of you look ahead and see a bleak picture and wonder why you need to have hope. Wouldn’t it be better if God took care of your trials? Wouldn’t that do much better to give you hope for the future? The answer is no. The only way for God to truly love us and help us and give us the strength we need is to empower us to be people of hope. We know what He has accomplished. He has come as a man and He has come for the purpose of saving man. Now He directs us to look ahead. His words in the Gospel reading makes us aware of what we need to know: “there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

This is startling. If you want to give your child what is good and what is best for him you don’t want to go about it by scaring him. Yet, this is not what Jesus is doing here. Even as part of raising your child is warning him, making him aware of things he needs to know, not to frighten him, but to prepare him, part of our Lord’s caring for us and guiding us is making us aware of what we need to know. If you are struggling in your life you have hope. The startling details of Judgment Day, in which the very powers of the heavens will be shaken!, are given to us by our Lord so that we may be people of hope. There is nothing you will face in life that is beyond the purview of your Lord. You may wonder how you’re going to get through your trials. God doesn’t. He’s going to get you through. He gives you hope.

He knows what you are going through. He says also in the Gospel reading, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Sometimes things in life can seem overwhelming. Sometimes we turn to things for relief, for something to take us away from the pain and the strain difficulties put on us. Alcohol may deaden the pain for a while but ultimately what happens is what Jesus has warned against: Our hearts get weighed down. In other words, turning to things other than relying on God in hope. This always makes things worse. Even being weighed down by the cares of this life makes things worse. There’s a difference between caring about things and worrying about things. God gives you hope, not a call to get so wrapped up in the day-to-day things of life that you lose sight of the call to greater glory on the Last Day and the present call to love and serve others.

Living in hope isn’t easy. Otherwise it wouldn’t be hope. The call to live in hope is always an exhortation to look ahead and live in certainty that what your Lord has promised you is as good as if you experience it in its fullness now. When Jesus describes what will occur in the Last Times He does so to give us hope. He does it so that we know that we shouldn’t lose sight of who He is and what He does for us. It’s so that we don’t lose sight of who we are and what He has called us to. It’s so that we don’t go about day-to-do life as if His death and resurrection don’t have any impact on who we are and how we live and His ultimate purpose for us. In short, it’s to give us hope.

He says, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Your redemption has been accomplished. This you know for certain. He redeemed you on the cross. He has given you forgiveness, life, and salvation in your Baptism. He gives you this very same forgiveness, life, and salvation along with His body and blood He gives to you to eat and drink in His Holy Supper. You don’t hope these things are true, you know they’re true.

You know what else you know? Your redemption is drawing near. You have hope. You live in hope. You know. You know that the God who has redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil is the God who will redeem you from the fallenness of this life. He will come again, this time in glory, and bring with Him all the fullness of His power, His glory, and His love, and you will live in it forever. Amen.


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