For My first-ever Advent sermon for children I had folded a bag of paper balls. Each child received one, and they breathed into it to form a ball and read out the word. I’ve got faith. I’ve got grace. I’ve got mercy. One child struggled. It got stuck. Then I was touched by the word written on the jammed paper ball. The word was hope! My sermon for the children for that Advent Sunday was how hope seems to take so long, but it will surely come.
For this year’s first Sunday in Advent, I noticed that both readings start with a posture of looking forward. “The days are surely coming,” Jeremiah begins in the first lesson. In the gospel lesson, Jesus says, “There will be signs.” Jesus has an object lesson. Look at the fig tree. Its leaves are coming out, and you know the summer is near. We may easily conclude that both Jeremiah the prophet and Jesus Christ were optimists.
By contrast, we know their time offered very little ground for optimism. Romans were stingy overlords with taxation. We can imagine how refreshing it must have been to listen to Jesus’ proclamation of the good news of the kingdom of God. New Testament scholars point out that Jesus’ popularity was just about the scariest thing for the Jerusalem authorities. Jesus came to a world where it was hard to imagine hope. He inspired hope. He was crucified for that, but even his death leads to the resurrection that gives hope to the humanity.
As the end of human life is marked by death, many wise teachers expected the world to end. The end of the world scenario is usually marked with sheer terror, but the gospel of Jesus Christ has turned the end of the world into something we can look forward to.
The end-of-the world anxiety will weigh down on people “with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” It will come upon the people “like a trap,” which catches the people by surprise. It will be a difficult time, but Jesus points to the coming of the Son of Man and the redemption of the faithful.
Hope it up. This may not be standard English, but to hope it up is something we do when there is no warrant for it. Sometimes, there is no hope. Hope it up. Sometimes, it is buried on a frozen land. Dig it up. Sometimes, it may be fallen to the ground. Prop it up.
That Hope is not there is not a good excuse to give it up. Paul the Apostle has a wonderful definition of hope: For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? (Romans 8:24).
Whether we can see it or not, we hope, for who hopes for what is already seen? Hope has a tendency to show up, when we wish for it. To be well, hope well. To have hope, hope it up.
© Reverend Jin Han 2012