Open to Hope, open to God? Second Sunday of Advent 4 Dec 2016
Second Sunday of Advent, Westmount Park United Church, 4 Dec. 2016
Readings: Isaiah 11: 1-10, Matthew 3: 1-12
Open to Hope, open to God?
If you think our taking a non-conventional series of themes in Advent, is because I find the traditional one’s inferior, think again. The traditional Sundays of Advent are hope, love peace and joy and if I had to choose one, it is Hope that marks the season most.
It sets us up for what Christmas can be.
Are you open to hope? Christian hope does not leave us the same.
So it is crucial to realise how dangerous Christian hope is. Hear the words of the Advent angels differently said to us and for us: Do not be afraid.
Because Christian hope is of God, is a blessing from God ;for God is Hope and are we open?
Our two Bible readings blaze with hope, and when I set them in some of their contexts, it adds oxygen to their glory.
The book of Isaiah is long and most scholars suggest it was written over several generations, not just by one ‘Isaiah’ living in Judah 700 years before Jesus, but by a movement or school that crafted the prophetic message through awful times. We know that Isaiah was written and edited during the period that super-powers changed the map of the holy land: little Judah and Israel, were taken over, leaders deported to exile in Assyria and then Babylon yet Hebrew prophets did not give up. This message faced ridicule within the land and from outside: from a Babylonian point of view, what stupidity to imagine the state they had annexed could become a rallying point for the whole world. From a Hebrews experience, where was God to prevent atrocities, correct the King, re-establish leaders of integrity when the leadership was the source of this corruption.
The response of Isaiah is to go deeper and wider than even the Moses vision of the Law and the promised land, to the nature of things, and to question the suffering and death present in the whole creation: human beings have been preying on each other, here is a vision of predator reconciled with prey.
It is good that our non-conventional themes of advent, water plant animal and human being are all together here.
Then a shoot will come forth from the stump fo Jesses and a stem spring forth from his roots……..
…..and the lion shall eat straw like the ox…
while the weaned child shall roll stones on the hole of the viper,
They are not evil and do not destroy in all my holy mountain for the land is full of the knowledge of Yahweh as water covers the sea.
Remember this vision comes from a communities that lived with a shattered world, no longer a Temple, under occupation, with a message contradicted by daily experience: who could say they were a chosen people now. Yet a vision of Hope!
Matthew’s gospel, remembers Jesus’s origins indeed do come from the stump of Jesse, and is written after that stump is cut again: Jesus Christ was crucified and raised, but all this is still before being Christian would give you any social status; in fact there were more people who had been to see John the Baptist, than had met Jesus. These two cousins had not changed world history, they were still outsiders both dying violently, one possessed in the desert, the other a glutton and a drinker, the Romans were still occupying in Matthews time and the second Temple had indeed been destroyed. But there was a thing, the claim we heard from John the Baptist, ‘I baptise with water, but the one who comes after me will come with the Holy Spirit and fire.’ Now this thing was coming true: and tell me, how is it that Matthew completes his good news, his story of Jesus Christ? ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given me. Go therefore and make followers of all nations……..’ A vision worthy of Isaiah, fragile, incomplete, yet blazing Hope.
But the evidence for the dangerous nature of Hope is not just found in Holy Scripture.
Who has seen the 1986 comedy film, Clockwise starring John Cleese? The story is of a once disorganised and obsessively punctual head-teacher of a British school, who runs his school by the clock, for every situation of the school week. It works and he is recognised with a prize; to address a national gathering of Head Teachers of private schools, even though he is in the public system, a first and the cherry on the cake of his success, so it seems, until the day of the address when getting to the meeting turns into a hilarious nightmare. He gets on the wrong train, looses his notes, gets a car that breaks down and so on; every attempt to correct himself makes it worse: he’s picking up one of his school girls, he’s trespassing a monastery, he collapses in his stolen monk’s robe by the roadside, and all the time, watching the time, as the hour of the meeting approaches and he is no where. (show exert)
The twists of his struggle to get to the meeting are deliciously excruciating but above all, I remember this film because of this line, as he muses with the school girl, having exhausted ideas of what to do next: ‘I can stand the despair it’s the hope! It’s the hope that gets you, you know’. Thirty years later that punchline stays with me.
This is Christian Hope in secular garb! The Hope that will not let the man in peace, a peace of failure. The Hope that disturbs and drives and governs decisions, the Hope that can only bring fulfillment. Christian Hope. With the political decisions of Brexit in UK and Trumpism in USA and Trudeau undermining any Green commitments by approving pipelines, and North Dakota pipeline protests by Sioux people, and relentless awful civil war in Syria, I am I confess clouded in darkness, grimness and deepest sadness; have we come to this, knowing no better than to sink into hatred, violence, with a denial of science and a poverty of kindness.
Yet this is as nothing to the horrors faced by Matthew, by Isaiah, who gave us hope. How is this? How does Hope happen? Hope happens when human beings are grounded in the Reality of God, grounded in what makes what matters, matter. Our headmaster is ultimately disappointed, his hope got lost on route, when he thought getting there mattered above all and his obsessionality overruled his responsibilities.
We can get caught up with our own success, our religion, our health, and even though this matters it is not the basis for hope.
Our success, our religion, our health, rest upon Reality, a reality we know in human terms by our teacher and Lord, Jesus Christ, our crucified teacher and Lord, our despairing Saviour; why have you forsaken me, he cried. Hope from this.
Wrestle with this, in being Christian.
Wrestle with the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.
Or not, because immediately we engage with a deeper layer of living, one that is not at the surface of our upbringing and social norms, we realise our lives will be disturbed. Like that fridge magnet prayer from Augustine, ‘God make me pure, but not yet.’ When life is harsh. When evil seems to win, wouldn’t it be good to be able to stop caring, to give up, to excuse ourselves from resistance, or the consequences of saying no.
But the wrestling leaves its marks, changes us. We try to do this here week by week in the honesty of hearing and reflecting on our Bible, or not.
I declare to you that this wrestling, is being open to God is all that is asked of us,
as Jacob wrestled, so do we, for a blessing, for Hope.
Because God transforms.
God is hope. That’s the Gospel.
by living and dying in this, we invite the Advent God
to come again and again into our lives.