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Forward in Hope - St John's Papatoetoe

Forward in Hope

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Year C Advent 1 – 28 November 2021

Even though we are in Lockdown, there is still an excitement in the air: Christmas is coming!

Today, we start a brand new year on the Christian calendar. We mark time differently from those who live December as a countdown to Christmas and the end of the year. We take four Sundays in preparation for the birth of Christ. That means we count forward, not downward.

Today is the first Sunday of Advent. For us as Christians, it is the first Sunday of the year. In sacred time, this is the first day in a new year. Our worship celebrates an alternative New Year’s Day. We affirm time as God’s home and workplace, not as a calendar of accumulating years but as a movement toward fulfilment. We move forward, not downward.

Our New Year’s Day is not a time for self-improvement resolutions but for community reaffirmation of trust in God’s promises, past, present, and future. Even though we must connect virtually, we still affirm as a community our trust in God’s promises.1

In this season, we wait in hope for the coming of the Messiah. We recognize that not all is as it should be. While this is the case every year, this feels especially true in 2021. For many, [SPRING] was to be a time of triumphal return to what was. A vaccine readily available to people in the West, normal life could resume again. However, society, and especially the church, has been irrevocably changed by the events of 2020 and 2021. Many are tired, grieved, and burnt out.2

Hope

We begin looking forward to Christmas in the spirt of hope.

It is ironic that we begin Advent with a reading from Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet of doom and gloom. His words were so heavy that he was arrested and imprisoned. Government officials were worried about the affect of his depressing words on their citizens.

But in our passage today, it is from a short reprieve in Jeremiah’s testimonies. It speaks of hope! Hope is real in the context of the horrible.

In his remarks from the Feasting on the Word commentary, Gary W. Charles says, “The stories of Advent are dug from the harsh soil of human struggle and the littered landscape of dashed dreams. They are told from the vista where sin still reigns supreme and hope has gone on vacation.” 3

We are living through a horrible time in our history. As Aucklanders in particular, we have been forced to live without freedom of movement. For the sake of public health and love for our neighbours, we have been restricted for many months from in person gatherings. We long for life to return to normal or at least some semblance of order. We are waiting for the debates and arguments to end. Should we wear masks or not? Should we be vaccinated or not? It is a time of real waiting and longing. We pine for some kind of hope from government.

God’s covenant people, however, are taught not to trust in government leaders for hope. Our leaders are human. They will not always get it right. That is normal. What is abnormal is to pin our emotional health on their every fiat and regulation. God’s covenant people look to the Lord.

“The days are surely coming” when God WILL fulfil all the promises of a coming kingdom of peace, justice, and righteousness. We WILL live in safety. Christ IS coming. Jesus will bring God’s kingdom to earth “and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Expectation

We begin looking forward to Christmas in the spirit of expectation.

Jeremiah chapters 30-33 are often referred to as “The Book of Consolation”.4 These four chapters offer hope to God’s covenant people who were living through a catastrophe. Jeremiah was trapped in the courtyard of the guard. His position illustrated the entire nation who were entrapped by enemy troops surrounding their city walls.

It was during this time our prophet of doom found a song to sing and prose to pen. His testimony was that if they continue their covenant day and night with God with the same determination that their enemy had them in siege day and night, God would be faithful to God’s people.

Jeremiah’s verses promote an expectancy for God’s deliverance from catastrophe. Just as we are looking forward with expectancy to travelling overseas again, so God’s people look forward to the Christ of Christmas to return and end all sorrow, fears, and injustice.

In 1924, Dallas Theological Seminary almost went bankrupt.  On the day it was to foreclose at noon, Dr. Harry Ironside, the president, held a prayer meeting in his office.  That day he prayed a prayer he had often prayed: “Lord, we know the cattle on a thousand hills are thine.  Please sell some of them and give us the money.”

As he prayed with some staff and faculty, a tall Texas oilman walked into the receptionist’s office and told the secretary: “I just sold two carloads of cattle in Fort Worth.  I’ve been trying to make a business deal go through and it won’t work, and I’ve been compelled to give this money to the seminary.  I don’t know if you need this, but here’s the check.” 

The secretary burst into the room where the men were praying and said to Dr. Ironside, “Harry, God just sold the cattle!”5

I know not all of our stories end like that. In the Christian walk triumph and failure seem to always go together as we wait in faith, expecting God to deliver. To wait on God is to struggle and sometimes to fail – that is reality. Truth be told, we learn more from our failures than we do our successes. As one author put it:

“Our failures teach us that to wait on God is not only to wait for his mercy, but to wait by his mercy.”

We wait expecting God to come. Our waiting is not about who we are but who God is. We do not need to go through horrible events in our strength. We are pulled through them by God’s amazing grace and mercy.

Preparation

We begin looking forward to Christmas in the spirit of preparation.

It isn’t easy to wait.  It demands persistence when common sense says “give up.”  It says “believe” when there is no present evidence to back it up.  Faith is forged in delay.  Character is forged in delay.  The forge is the gap between the promise and the fulfilment.  As gold is purified and shaped in the white-hot heat of a forge, so we and our faith are purified and shaped in waiting.6

The point of Advent is to learn how God wants us to act and live so that we recognise him when he comes. Advent helps us overcome the temptation to focus on the evil around us by refocusing us on Jesus. Instead of building up a bunker to survive pandemics or societal breakdowns, whether real or spiritual, we build our character in line with God’s characteristics. Advent, therefore, helps us to live life to its fullest.

Waiting is rarely fun. It’s often painful. We wait for the results from a lab test. We wait in traffic. We wait in line at the department of motor vehicles. We wait for an apology that might never come. Waiting is a visible sign that we live in a fallen world, that not all is as it should be. For if everything were as desired, we wouldn’t have to wait for it.7

Waiting shapes our character. It helps mould who we are. Advent is a time of preparation. We are preparing for Christ’s coming. We can choose to become bitter and allow resentments to fester while we wait or to exercise grace and love. We can choose to become paralysed with fear as we wait for the unknown evil or joy as we wait for Christ’s return. Either way, as you can see, waiting is not passive. You make an active chose.

Our Jeremiah text shows us that we can be a people who wait in hope. Our hope is in God who is faithful. God became flesh in the person we know as Jesus, the Messiah. As such, Jesus will return again. Let us not be passive. Let us wait intelligently. Let us join with God in God’s mission while we wait. Let us work more fully to bring about God’s kingdom.

But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters. And because you are sons and daughters, God has set the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son and daughter, and if a son or daughter then an heir. In Christ, you are forgiven, adopted into God’s family, an heir to the kingdom!

Galatians 4:4-7

1 Deborah A. Block. Pastoral Perspective. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. WJK (Louisville, Kentucky, 2014), 9-10

2 Austin D. Hill. “Jesus: the Hope of the World2 (Welcome).” The Pastor’s Workshop. https://thepastorsworkshop.com/advent-sermon-series-2021-jesus-the-hope-of-the-world/ Accessed 25 Nov 2021.

3 Gary W. Charles, in Feasting on the Word Year C, Volume 1, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 3.

4 J. Andrew Dearman, NIV Application Commentary: Jeremiah and Lamentations, ed. Terry Much (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 267

5 Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

6 Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent by Ben Patterson Copyright (c) 1989 by Ben Patterson. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

7 Austin D. Hill. “Jesus: the Hope of the World.” The Pastor’s Workshop. https://thepastorsworkshop.com/rcl-year-c-1st-week-of-advent-jeremiah-3314-16/ Accessed 25 Nov 2021.


You can watch the sermon as part of worship service on our YouTube Channel here.

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