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Promised Land, Promised Time: Reflections on Advent Hope

On November 27th I preached a sermon titled Promised Land, Promised Time based on the chapter of the same name out of Brian McLaren's book We Make the Road by Walking.  The sermon was essentially about the seed that was planted in the consciousness of Jews - who were often captives of larger, more powerful empires for God to deliver them from their oppression and save them from abusive empires.

In the sermon I referenced three passages of scripture which described how God would come and begin healing the world and its people; Isaiah 40:1, 9-11; Daniel 7:9-28; and Luke 1:67-79.  Isaiah was written just after Babylon had captured and decimated Judah, shipped its brightest people away from their homeland, and destroyed the Temple.  Isaiah's words declare that Yahweh is coming to lead God's people back to their home like a gentle shepherd guides their sheep.  Daniel, written around 168 BCE, describes the Babylonian, Median, Persian, and Greek empires battling for power and control until God sends "one like a human being" to take control over all peoples, nations, and languages.  Almost three hundred years later Luke describes Zechariah, a priest and the father of John, holding his son for the first time and reciting poetry.  In his poem, he gives praise to God who has remembered God's people and sent a savior to save God's people from the hands of those who oppress and hate them.  The savior, sent from God, will lead God's people to live holy and righteous lives, bring light to those in darkness, and to guide them in the path of peace. 

                Each one of these passages planted seeds of hope in the minds of those who listened to them.  Christians celebrate these seeds in the season of the church year called Advent; the season we find ourselves in now.  Advent is the Latin word for coming or arrival.  In this time we wait in anticipation and expectation for the coming of our Lord; it celebrates both the arrival of the baby Jesus and the long awaited event where God will make all things new. 

                The time of Advent is the perfect time to understand that these texts of hope written by the Hebrew prophets and early Christians aren't just words written to comfortable middle-class people in privileged conditions.  They were written to those on the margins of society, the ones who were beaten down and taken advantage of, the ones who Howard Thurman described as having their backs to the wall.  These texts were written to the ones that were conquered by abusive governments that made registries of its victims and split families by removing people from the places they called home.  That is who Isaiah and Daniel and Luke have in mind as their audience.  Thus, I believe that hope comes from deep woundedness; it certainly came from the deep woundedness of the Jewish community. 

                However, what do the seeds of hope for God to step in and free the oppressed, and bring good news to the poor mean to me when I have a warm house to come home to, a reliable car that can get me to my job, and enough income to be comfortable?  Can I truly hear the words of Isaiah, "Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God?"  My answer is "yes, but…" by that I mean to say that privileged people like me can hear the good news but we must learn to hear as it is, as a message to the hopeless.

                For there to be comfort, there must also be discomfort.  If we the privileged - are to hear the word of the Lord, written to those on the margins, we must become uncomfortable.  We become uncomfortable by building relationships with those on the margins in our own communities.  We become uncomfortable by listening to the voices of those who are scared and vulnerable and allow their life and experience to speak to our hearts.  When we identify with the discomforted, the disinherited, and the marginalized in our community, we gain an ear finely tuned to the good news of God.  With our ears finely tuned to God's message of hope to the ones with their backs against the wall, we can start to work towards building the world God desires, or what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God.

                If hope comes from woundedness but stays a concept rather than a reality then hope is cheap.  Real hope, the hope we have in God through Jesus, is not cheap, it is costly.  It costs us the care-free life of privilege and asks us to be involved in the healing of the world.  It costs us our triumphalism and asks us to humble ourselves and side with the oppressed and marginalized.  The costly hope of Advent asks us to put our hope into action creating a just and equitable world.  Cornel West says that justice is what love looks like in action.  So if we are going to talk about the love of God or our love for people then we better be working for justice, otherwise, our words fall dead to the ground.   In other words, because of hope we become participants in building the Realm of God.

                So here we are in Advent, a time of expectation and Hope.  For those on the margins, this is a time of hope and possibility; a time to look faithfully for the coming of Hope, for the Light that dispels darkness, and for God who comes to us as a tiny baby.  For those of us in a context of privilege, Advent is a time to re-orient our lives in obedience to Jesus; it's a time to find ways to stand with those on the margins, a time for our hearts to be filled with hope and love and a desire to build the Kingdom of peace on Earth.

Recommended Reading

Jesus for President Shane Claiborne

Jesus and the Disinherited Howard Thurman

Dare We Speak of Hope Allan Boesak 

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