1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Today we turn the page to a new Church year. Today we begin a journey of discovery and a journey of Hope. Today begins the Season of Advent, the season of preparation. The time of the year when we prepare our homes and our hearts for the coming birth of the Christ child.
This journey begins with and in Hope. Hope is difficult to have these days because it is hard to know what to have Hope in. Growing up, we had Hope in the Church and the leaders of the Church. But for some of us, we were let down by that Church and those leaders. Perhaps it was because of the person we chose to love. Maybe it was because of a situation that caused our marriage to dissolve. Maybe it was a clergy person that caused us to lose Hope.
Growing up, we also had Hope in the institutions of government. Government is not and should not be the answer to every problem that arises, but lately, the government has been more concerned with itself and the perpetuation of jobs of the leaders rather than of jobs for others. It seems we have lost our focus, and rather than one nation with liberty and justice for all, we have become many nations with liberty and justice for a few.
But there is one sure foundation for us to have Hope in, and that is the story we are here to share. A story that began in a backwater portion of the Roman Empire in 1st century Palestine. It started when a very young girl answered the call to do something extraordinary. So our story of Hope begins with a young girl who says yes.
All that this young girl knew was that God had asked. She did not need any assurance; although she had questions, she would find those answers on the journey. The story continues with a man, a simple man, a carpenter by trade. Tradition tells us he had been married before and that his spouse died and left him with children. This man is a provider and, at first, was not too keen on the idea that the woman he had pledged to marry was now in the family way.
He wanted to put her away quietly, but that same angel came and told him to have Hope that everything would be okay, and it was. He had Hope when they set out to be counted, and he still had Hope when they could not find a place to sleep. He had Hope when he looked into the eye of God, the eyes of love that had just become flesh and entered the world.
He was about to lose Hope when the angel came again and told him to get up and take the child and flee. To leave everything he had behind and take the child and his mother to a far-off land that was not his own. They would have to face unimaginable hardships on that journey and arrive in a place that was hostile to them just because they were from another place. But he had to protect his family, so he did what he had to regardless of the risk for life, and life was better than certain death.
You see, this journey of Hope began long before the baby was born. This story of Hope started “in the beginning” when God, the source of all life and love, created humanity in God’s own image and likeness and breathed God’s very breath into God’s creation. The journey began in that garden when humanity disobeyed God and set humanity on this journey we are now witnessing.
Advent is a season that has all but been forgotten. Advent gets skipped over for its more important cousin Christmas but, we cannot have the birth without the preparation. Advent comes from the Latin adventus and is translated as coming or arrival. Advent is the time, as John the Baptist put it, to prepare for the coming of the Savior of the World and the Prince of Peace. Advent is the time to prepare ourselves spiritually for what is about to happen.
Advent is also a journey. Each week of this season has a theme, and we will light one candle each week as we count down. We begin in Hope, expectant Hope; the following weeks are faith, joy, and peace. All four weeks teach us to have these themes in our hearts and our lives.
Just as the story of Mary and Joseph began with Hope, our Advent story begins with Hope. I spoke earlier of what we used to have Hope in, but we quickly found that this Hope was short-lived. But we still need to have Hope. Hope is vital to the life of the Christian, and it is that Hope that we are called to bring into this world that we live in.
Our ancestors in faith had Hope; their Hope was in the Messiah that would come and free them from their bondage. They thought this Messiah was coming to free them from their physical bondage, but rather the Messiah came to free them from their spiritual bondage. The Messiah came to show them a new way, the way of love. The Messiah came to indicate that all were equal in the eyes of God and that no matter their circumstances, we, his followers, were to love and care for them.
But we are also people of action. We live in hope, but we must be the ones who make that Hope a reality for others. Jesus came to give us a new way, but that way requires something of us.
It first requires the love of God. We express that love by the following requirement, loving everyone. This is not just passive love but love in action. We have shown that love here with our food collection and for the collection of items for Fr. Bills. We put that love into action by our openness to others regardless of where they come from, who they are, how much money they have, or who they love.
Friends, the season of Advent needs to be a season that we welcome and a season that we celebrate. I know it is difficult as there are all sorts of distractions this time of year that pulls us in many different directions. But take time, real-time, to prepare our hearts and minds for the journey that is ahead of all of us. Take time to journey with Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem for the birth of their child. Prepare the room in your heart for Jesus to come and dwell.
But then, take that move that preparation into action. There are people in the world living in Hope, hoping that someone will come along and help them. So be that Hope for someone this season and give the gift of Hope, the Hope that can change lives.