“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find;
knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matt 7:7)
Today we begin the journey of Advent. The journey begins wherever you are. The journey will end with the birth of the Christ-Child, Jesus Christ. Though as the Magi can tell you, finding the Christ-Child is really just the beginning.
Despite what you see on TV or experience at a store, you cannot take the interstate to travel to Bethlehem. The journey is not fast or easy.
But there are ancient paths. Sometimes hard to see and always difficult to follow, these paths have been carved into the landscape of Christian spirituality by the travelers of ages past. They, like we, had to decipher the time-worn maps that lead us to the Christ-Child.
These maps are strange things. The roads lead inward. They are marked with names like Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. They are routes we travel with head and heart—sometimes together, sometimes apart. They are separate and whole, individual yet distinct.
Some days we may travel miles. Other days our progress seems paralyzed. But we journey still, for our progress is not calculated in miles travelled, waypoints visited, or photos taken, but by the steady, unrelenting passage of time.
We know what no one in First Century Judea knew: we have but four short weeks before the Christ-Child arrives. Will we be ready?
Part of our journey involves finding these ancient paths for ourselves: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. To find them will undoubtedly involve a lot of asking, seeking, and knocking. But as I said, the journey is not easy.
As we pilgrimage to Advent together, I encourage you to consider asking God a question. Sit with your question and with God these four weeks, honestly and openly, and I believe you will hear God answer.
But for now, we are seekers. We are pilgrims on a journey, as the old hymn proclaims. And this week we journey toward finding hope.
The scripture text we use this morning to illuminate our journey is…
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. 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. 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.”
The Bible speaks a great deal about hope:
- In Hebrews 11:1, we are told that faith & hope are interconnected: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
- Proverbs 10:28 instructs us that “The hope of the righteous ends in gladness.”
- Psalm 42:5-6 asks “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
- Jereremiah 14:22 reminds us of the reason we hope in God, when Jeremiah says: “We set our hope on you, for it is you who do all this.”
- Later in Jeremiah, we are reminded that God desires we have hope. Jeremiah 29:11 says “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.”
- In Romans 4:18, the Apostle Paul holds up the person of Abraham to be an example of faith for believers. In Paul’s words, Abraham’s faith was lived out by “hoping against hope” for God’s promises.
- We also know something of the origins of hope from Paul, who stated that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5).
- And we also read that “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24).
- We know that “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
- And elsewhere Paul says that “Christ Jesus [is] our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1).
This is, of course, just a sampling. But it illustrates a point: the Bible speaks a great deal about hope. But what is it? And more importantly, how do we find it?
The dictionary defines hope as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen,” but that just feels sort of distant and cold. It also seems pretty self-centered, and I believe hope relies on others. There is, I believe, a relational component to hope. Maybe it is because it seems to be contagious. Maybe it is because—when things are bleak—we need someone outside ourselves to inspire us to hope. Maybe it is because when we have hope we cannot help but share it. I don’t know.
On the face of it, hope might be as simple as believing that there is a tomorrow. Because sometimes tomorrow itself seems like an impossibility.
But as I have wrestled with the question of defining hope, another option has wormed its way into my brain: Hope may be believing in someone or something because it is right and true and honest, no matter what the outcome looks like—a task that usually requires more strength than we have in ourselves alone.
This is, in a way, the context of our scripture lesson from Jeremiah 33. In a life of exile, everything about the ancient Israelites’ way of life having been destroyed, Jeremiah “hopes against hope” with God, imagining a day of restoration when God’s promises are fulfilled. The text speaks of a peace that will come about when the Righteous Branch of David rightly dispenses justice throughout the land.
I imagine that “safety” and “peace” were relative terms to those living in exile. I once heard someone joking about life in New York City, claiming that “making it home safe” meant that you got mugged, but not stabbed or shot too. The Israelites having been subjected to such trauma and violence, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to hope for a time when your physical safety is not constantly threatened.
But that is the hope—that is the dream that Jeremiah dreams with God. And I am so glad he did, because we need these infusions of reckless hope to keep on believing, ourselves.
We understand Jesus Christ to be the person in which this text of Jeremiah is fulfilled. He is the “righteous branch” that springs up from the stump of Judah and in whom all find their hope.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is itself an expression of hope. For in it, our God dreams impossible and reckless dreams of restoration and wholeness for us. One of those dreams got his Son killed. Another dream said that you are worth it.
Too often, we Christians are the first to accept the status quo, to claim that things cannot change, and so we must accept circumstances and make the most of it. We are so interested in affirming the sovereignty of God that we forget God’s Kingdom is not of this world. And so we scurry along quietly minding only our own lives, and in doing so we reinforce the pain and suffering of our neighbors and ourselves.
But this is not our calling. We are called to speak truth to lies, comfort to pain, joy to sorrow, love to hate, and hope to despair.
There’s a short video that we’re getting cued up for you right now. I imagine you will find it inspiring. It’s about a man named Arthur Boorman, a disabled veteran who had lost hope. Well, the video tells his story better than I ever could.
The thing that really struck me about Arthur’s story is how many times he must have been told to give up.
Our world is full of “Arthur Boormans” who have been beaten down and chewed up by life. Maybe their struggles are not physical in nature; maybe they are. Some of us are beaten down by our families. Some are beaten down by our bosses. Some are beaten down by medical conditions. Some are beaten down by joblessness, or poverty, or discrimination.
The Gospel story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is one that challenges us to never give up hope. For even when death was certain, even when the moment of death was three days past, it was not too late for our God to act.
And so we, as Christians, are called to speak endless hope to those who are told to give up. We are called to breathe hope into a world of despair. With the bottomless creativity of our God, we are called to imagine possibilities where there are only dead ends. We profess that there is no person, no relationship, or no situation too broken for our God to redeem it.
The question for you, for me, and for all of us, is: do we believe it?
When we look at an “Arthur Boorman,” do we see tragic circumstances that cannot be bettered? Or do we see a child of God in need of hope.
If we do not believe, we cannot expect the world to believe either.
If we do not believe, we will never find hope.
And that is an incredible tragedy, for without hope we—and our world—will never see the light that the Christ-Child brings into existence, the light that dispels darkness and despair, the light that illuminates our path, one step at a time, as we travel these time-worn paths of hope, peace, joy, and love in our journey to Christ.
I pray that you find hope in this season of Advent, and that you become beacons of hope in your world. May God be praised.