Messengers of HopePosted: December 7, 2014
Messengers of Hope
SLIDE 3: HOPE IN THE DARKNESS
Last week in our scripture, Asaph asked the question, “Where are you God, when we need you?” He probably wrote his Psalm as the City of Jerusalem was surrounded by a foreign army. This week as we plunge further into Advent and the darkness of the coming Winter Solstice, Isaiah speaks to the children of Israel in exile in Babylon and offers hope.
SLIDE 4: HOPE IS A MYSTERY
Hope is a mystery. We cannot get our hands on it. As Paul says in his Letter to the Romans 8: 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for hope. But how long can we wait before we give into despair? According to Proverbs: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
SLIDE 5: WAITING IN A CULTURE OF IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION
Advent is a season of disciplined hope, learning to wait in the darkness for the time of fulfillment – hard but necessary – and especially hard in our culture of immediate gratification. Immediate gratification sets us up for long term despair. Sort of like Calvin in Calvin and Hobbs. Unless we learn to wait with hope our lives become one empty pleasure after another until we are overwhelmed by boredom. Boredom leads to the aimless pursuit of more pleasure until we suffer internal estrangement – alienation from ourselves as well as from God.
SLIDE 6: BOREDOM
In the Screwtape Letters, an imaginary correspondence between a senior devil, Screwtape, and a junior tempter, Wormwood, C.S. Lewis provides a masterful description of the inner estrangement caused by the relentless pursuit of the shallow pleasures of immediate gratification:
“As this condition of boredom becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations. As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention. You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s newspaper will do. You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him. You can make him do nothing at all for long periods. You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room. All the healthy and outgoing activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at last he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’
SLIDE 7: SAFEST ROAD TO HELL
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the person from God. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the person away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than solitaire, if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” I don’t think C.S. Lewis intended his metaphor to be taken literally. I believe all we need to know of Hell we experience in this life.
SLIDE 8: POWER FOREVER ON THE SIDE OF THOSE BRAVE ENOUGH TO TRUST IT
We need hope that connects us to something larger than ourselves and our own wants and needs. We need a faith in the love that lies at the heart of the universe – the power that is forever on the side of those brave enough to trust it.
SLIDE 9: HOPE IS FRAGILE BUT HARD TO KILL
In a strange paradox, however, hope is fragile, it sometimes seems to hang from a thread, but hope is also hard to kill. Sometimes in the face of a seemingly desperate and depressing situation, hope will suddenly rise up from the ashes of defeat. Or as Joseph Parker said on Facebook this week: “Hope is a seed that falls to the ground and dies, forgotten and cold until its appointed season. Hold on. Hope abounds.” Hope keeps us alive. People who have no hope turn to the wall and die – sometimes physically, but certainly spiritually. People without hope become spiritual zombies going through the motions of life without really living, as C.S. Lewis said, “staring at a dead fire in a cold room.”
SLIDE 10: GOSPEL STORY OF HOPE
We all need hope. The Gospel is the ultimate story of hope. A good person, reached out to others in love, healing the sick, feeding the poor, sharing the good news that we are all much beloved children of God. The people of power and influence who needed to feel better than others, who wanted to control everyone else for their own power and profit, took the good person, dragged him before a kangaroo court, beat him, flailed him within an inch of his life, stripped him naked and tortured him to death in full public view. When he had breathed his last, the sun went down, and the people of power and profit felt secure again. So they allowed his poor tortured body to be taken away and buried.
SLIDE 11: CHOSEN TO BE MESSENGERS OF HOPE
But that was not the end of the story, for the love of that good person did not die with his body, but lived on in the lives of those who had been touched by him and followed him. And a hope was born in the world that will not die. Those who choose to follow in the way of Jesus, who follow the way of love, have been chosen to be messengers of hope. Advent is not just a time of disciplined hopeful waiting, this is the season when we are all called to become messengers of hope.
SLIDE 12: LIGHT A CANDLE – SING “JOY TO THE WORLD”
So, how do we become messengers of hope especially if we are kind of shy or introverted and could not possibly imagine ourselves talking about our faith with a stranger or on a street corner? First, remember that Christmas is the one time of year, when unchurched people, even formerly churched people, are actually open to the possibility of attending church. Maybe it’s cultural. Maybe it’s seasonal. Maybe it’s the power of the story. We have entered into the darkest month of the year. Maybe people respond to the decorations, the lights, the candles. Lighting a candle and singing “Joy to the World,” can excite flickers of hope in the darkness. Whatever it is about Advent and Christmas people become more open to the claims of faith.
SLIDE 13: INVITE SOMEONE TO CHRISTMAS EVE
Second, our invitation to a Christmas Eve Service may be just the nudge someone needs to get out from in front of a television set showing re-runs of the “Grinch Stole Christmas,” and gather with other human beings to hear and participate in the Christmas Story. We don’t have to preach on a street corner, we don’t have to make someone sit down while we read the 1st Chapter of Matthew or the Second Chapter of Luke. We can just invite them to come with us and let the candles and the communion, the music and the story do the rest. St. Francis of Assisi created the first crèche as a way of sharing the Christmas Story with children and the illiterate poor.
SLIDE 14: SEND A CARD
Third, if inviting someone to come with us is just too much of a stretch, we can send a Christmas card – not some generic card with our names printed on them, but a real card with a message about hope, and a real honest to God note from us. If we are feeling particularly daring we might even mention we are including them in our prayers. We don’t have to send out dozens of cards one will do.
SLIDE 15: EXTRA SMILE AND A KINDNESS
Fourth, we can make an extra effort to smile and greet people during the season. This is a tough time of year for many store clerks and waiters and waitresses. Most low wage workers are overworked and underpaid. We can’t do a lot about their pay scales, but we can choose to be kind, considerate and caring. Smile and take a genuine interest in the salespeople and the wait staff we normally take for granted. Also remember when tipping is allowed, be generous as a way of offering hope and love. Fred Craddock a great professor of homiletics at Emory used to tell his students: “Preach Christ, use words if you have to.” May our actions and kindnesses speak for us this Season and make us messengers of hope.
SLIDE 16: CHARITY – A MESSAGE OF HOPE
Fifth, we can become messengers of hope in our charity. Every Christmas it is good to choose some special act of charity as our gift to the Christ Child. For too many of us Christmas becomes all about us – what we want, what we expect from others, and what we give to our families and our friends, who don’t really need anything. As we think about the gift of love in the incarnation of the Christ Child and the gifts of adoration brought by the Magi, we need to remember the words of the parable, even though you did it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me.
SLIDE 17: GENEROSITY – A MESSAGE OF HOPE
The Christ is still in the world with us in the distressing disguise of those who are in need. We can make a gift to the Christ Child by choosing someone outside of our normal circle of friends and relations, and offer a gift of love. Maybe warm clothes and blankets for the homeless, food for Foodline, or a special anonymous gift of money for a family we know who are struggling. Generosity is a message of hope for those who are in need. Preach Christ, use words if we have to.