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Daring to Hope

Isaiah 11:110
Matthew 3:1-12

Hope, like the God who offers it, can be shocking. Dead stumps send out live shoots. Spirit-led leaders rule with justice for the poor. The overturning of natural enmities in the natural order breaks ground for a wilderness prophet who shakes up privileged folk with calls for repentence. God raises a banner of hope for all to follow and a little child leads the way. Wow! that’s powerful, extravagant imagery of hope in our scriptures today.
Advent invites us to give up the limits we put on hope and possibility; to hope beyond our pragmatic everyday living…..And so our theme Travelling with Hope

Isaiah describes a reality that seems like an unlikely dream given the ongoing violence that plagues our nations, our neighbourhoods, and our homes. Watching the evening news, it is easy to give up hope. At this time of year we are tempted to fill these feelings of hopelessness with material gifts, sugared Christmas cookies, and the “ho, ho, ho” of the holidays. Yet the tension between Isaiah’s vision and our reality is very real. Sometimes we try to cover up a valid hopelessness with a “shiny image” of reality, especially during the Advent season.

But one of my favourite quotes about hope challenges us not to be so facile. Hope emerges as a dialogue with despair. Hope means seeing that the outcome you want is possible, and then working for it. It comes from Dr. Bernie Siegel cancer specialist who works daily with hope and despair.

The vision of hope Isaiah gives of the Peacable Kingdom where leaders will govern with justice, wisdom, insight and knowledge; when creation will be in balance and harmony; when there will be no more violence and harm in the land; when a child will be respected and will lead the way. This vision does not come out of a candy coated popcorn box or from magic pills either. It comes out of a dialogue with the despair of a people in exile; a people who are uprooted, strangers in a strange land, cut off from all that sustained their culture, their faith, their identity, their hope. Woundedness had closed their hearts over, They could not see beyond the state they were in. Their capacity to vision was limited. Their thinking was small.

That’s how it is when we are disconnected from hope isn’t it? We become cynical, life closes in. When I get in this state, it is often because I have not been caring for my soul. I’ve been giving more than I can comfortably give from my well, and not allowing it to be replenished. Maybe I’ve been around too much negative thinking; listened to too many depressing newscasts; hung out with too many people who feel powerless to make any difference with their lives. Despair and cynicism are catching; just like hope is. I know a friend who fasts from the news regularly to sustain her hope.

Isaiah’s vision of hope comes out of a dialogue with despair. It begins with the wonderful image of a new shoot coming out of a stump cut off and left for dead. Isaiah does not sugar coat that there has been violence to the tree, and much destruction. But he promises that the life of God, the hope of God, the shalom of God is so powerful that even in places where it looks as if all is cut off and dead, it is possible for tiny shoots of new beginnings to appear. It’s a resurrection image. New life where you thought there was only death.

There is another quote about hope that I love from a theologian named Peter Kuzmic: Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future; faith is the courage to dance it today.
Hear the balance of living in two different realms. Tuning in to God’s future and hearing that music; but having the courage to dance that music today. That’s what John the Baptist, Isaiah and I believe Jesus were doing. Having one ear tuned to God’s dream for the future but having the courage to live and dance and create their part of that vision in the now.

For Isaiah, it meant painting the vision bold so the people who walked in darkness could see beyond the pain of their current circumstances. Could see themselves and their God in a different way…He paints a vision of peace in creation; an end to violence; a vision of a true spirit guided leader who will govern with justice for the poor, with wisdom, insight, integrity…. He gives this vision when exactly the opposite is happening. The people are prisoners of a despotic empire that has taken them into exile.

In Matthew, the voice of John is harder to listen to. He’s a bit of an odd-ball, spikey character; but he also has a radical dream for the future. He reminds those who have come to listen to him in the wilderness that how things are not how God intended them to be. He cries out for repentance–for looking straight into the face of reality, and choosing to turn around and go in a different direction.

Remember, Jesus and John lived in a time of globalization 1st Century style; -Roman imperialism. Many were dissatisfied with being put off their land, having their wealth taken to Rome to build up the Roman empire and its costly army. Many despaired that their government were puppets of Rome, giving the illusion of independence, but really marching to the drumbeat of Rome. Religion was in captivity to the culture too.

A lot of people then, as now, were only concerned with how to survive. But, then, as now there was a deep hunger, a longing for change. John gathered in the wilderness people searching for a new way; looking for alternatives, seeking a different vision for living.

John’s message was radical. It went to the root (which is the meaning of radical). He called on people to Prepare the way of God, in their world. He told them it was possible to make a difference NOW, to make choices for change. It was not enough to make just a few minor superficial adjustments in the way things were. It was going to demand repentance. Turning around and going in another direction. Bringing lifestyle and the whole society into harmony with God’s vision for the world. There was a real urgency to his preaching. “This is the time, the kingdom is very near. We don’t have forever.” People flocked to hear him. The desert was one place where you could listen to a speech without being interrupted by a lot of Roman spies, on most days anyway.

Today I hear some of this same urgency in young people I have met in the anti-globalization movement or in those concerned with global warming. They call us to repent, to turn around. We don’t have forever.

And lest you think that calling people a brood of vipers is not very holy or hopeful language, I invite you to think about those you would like to call that….For me it would be arms dealers who profit from selling weapons to governments to use against their own citizens; seeding landmines to destroy life for years to come…..or child porn rings who abuse children and distribute images to pedophiles…..I could add a few more, and probably so could you… We need prophets like John to come out of the wilderness naming evil for what it is, demanding that such people turn their lives around. For God’s way to be prepared and made real, there must be parts of our culture cut down, burned as it were for life to emerge as God would have it. This too is hope.

The last quote on hope I’ll share with you comes from Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.”
From these quotes we learn some interesting things about hope
•It emerges out of a dialogue with despair;
•it challenges us to see beyond the now to capture a vision of what is possible;
• But it is not all future oriented. It also involves dancing/ working in the now to the tune of that vision we can see.
•It involves seeing beyond the evidence. It involves trusting that God is still speaking and still creating; It is about trusting that transformation IS possible.
• And then it involves creating community that can become a place of hope; and can make hope possible for us and for others.

For me, hope begins with being able to imagine that another way is possible. When I cannot even imagine things being different I can get sucked in to the “what’s the use, nothing can ever change” mentality which I think is the worst spiritual sickness of our time.

Hope is sustained by connecting with people who are hopers; being part of a community and a movement which can hold you up when you are down; and where you can hold others up when they are down. For me the church is an important part of this community.

Hope is sustained by looking for signs of where life is breaking through. The Gazette yesterday challenged people to give a gift of hope through what we would call living gifts…Gifts that sustain and build life. We are selling such gifts after church at coffee hour to support St. Columba House and Montreal City mission. These are signs of hope. I am praying that life and hope will break through in Bali this week. I admire and am inspired by environmentalists like David Suzuki whose hope keeps them working for change. They do this because they can imagine that change is possible; and they work to create it. Hope sustains them hanging in for the long haul.

This kind of hope strengthens my hope. It makes me know that I can be part of a larger movement for change I feel that same empowerment when I work with advocates from the church and other partners who work for justice … for human rights….for development …for fair trade…for an end to violence in schools, in the home, in the society. There are people of hope everywhere who are quietly going about creating a better world one step at a time…caring for elderly people…building healthy families…working for better health care…making choices that protect the environment… taking meals to shut-ins…driving friends to treatment…working for justice for refugees…feeding the hungry…housing the mentally ill…building wells and schools… teaching children….supporting grandmothers in Africa caring for their orphaned children…In all these simple ways these folks are daring to hope.

Let’s keep being a community that dares to hope, proclaiming God’s dream in spite of the reality in which we live. This is a place where we can begin to live and to create what we say we believe. Where we can help one another grow and heal, and connect with life that is worth living. We can continue to build the kingdom in our small and imperfect ways, and nourish and sustain one another in hope.

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