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Choosing Hope

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Luke 21: 29-33

Advent begins the church year, a reminder that sacred time and cultural time are not the same thing. Advent invites us to move from ordinary time into- a time of waiting – of watching – of preparing – of making room for Holy birth, this time not in Mary but in us. Advent honours waiting, hoping, anticipation, longing as an important season of the Spirit, something which is very counter-cultural to what we experience in the malls, on the TV, in the rest of the culture.

But Advent challenges us not only to wait and watch, but also to expect the inbreaking of God in our world. Easy words to say. But what if we really heard them? ..not only to wait and watch, but also to expect the inbreaking of God in our world.

How different would our lives be if we were oriented to expectation? if instead of looking for everything that is wrong with the world, our antenna were tuned to signs of God’s aliveness in our world? Might we notice something we otherwise would have walked right past and missed? What if we strained our listening ears to hear murmuring angel voices, to recognize the cry of God in the groaning of creation? What if we began noticing the nudges of the Holy? What if our eyes through a different lens could see Spirit in places others miss; in dead stumps sending out live shoots, in spirit led leaders who rule with justice for the poor, in wilderness prophets who shake up privileged folk with calls for repentence, in a baby born in vulnerability and poverty, even in the ordinary stuff of our own lives? And one last question: What might happen if we asked “God, Is there something you are hoping through me and my life this Advent? some holy seed you want me to bear and bring to birth?” Would it make a difference?

Advent invites us to give up the limits we put on hope and possibility; to hope beyond our pragmatic everyday selves for wholeness for ourselves, our communities, for creation. All our scriptures in Advent invite us to a radical, extravagant hope, that things can and will change. And that extravagant hope is proclaimed in resistance to the voices surrounding us programmed to hopelessness. Hope, like the God who offers it, can be shocking.

Biblical hope is not fluffy, based in pollyanna denial of reality that would let us dismiss it to a fairytale place where magic wands make bad things good if you just wish upon a star. Biblical hope is deeply rooted in the reality of the creating, resurrecting one, who brings green buds of hope after winter destruction, who brings new life in a stump that has been cut off, who brings salvation through a babe born in poverty and political turmoil.

Advent prods our faith memory to wake up out of our powerlessness to pay attention to what God is already doing; to wake up and to participate in God’s continual coming into the midst of human misery; To wake up and notice it, and to get with it! I hope you are starting to get the picture.

I have a few favourite quotes about hope. 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.

Jeremiah was surely a man who dialogued with despair. He sure could never be accused of living in denial, or being naïve about politics. Jeremiah lived through chaos in the middle East – the war that saw the southern kingdom of Judah defeated and occupied by the superpower Babylon in 597 BCE. His cries to the political and religious leaders fell on deaf ears. He reminds us that faithfulness is not about jumping onto a bandwagon of militarism, and public opinion, but about listening deeply for God, and speaking your truth whether you are heeded or not. He lived through the destruction of Jerusalem, of the temple, and the exile of those same leaders to Babylon. He could be forgiven for gloating. But he doesn’t. He continued to speak his word from God, unpopular though it was, sometimes at great personal risk. He was imprisoned at one point because he did not tow the party line. Jeremiah was a persistent, faithful man in these times of crisis, who proclaimed that sacred values of justice, and peace were not expendable frills just for good times to be gotten rid of as soon as a foreign enemy arrived on the scene.

The destruction Jeremiah foresaw happened bigtime. He escaped to Egypt, and now the message changed to one of hope and promise. There will be new seed for new times. To a people who felt abandonned by God, Jeremiah spoke God’s promise of presence in a new and deeper way. “The days are surely coming,” says the Lord; “the days are surely coming when the promise of God, the knowledge of God, the way of God will be written deep within, right into the hearts of people so that all shall know me, from the least to the greatest.” Not distance and judgment but intimacy.

Then in today’s reading Jeremiah continues words of hope There’s that drum roll again. The days are surely coming; the days are surely coming… The vision comes with the wonderful image of a new shoot coming out of a stump cut off and left for dead. Jeremiah 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.

Have you ever watched that happen in nature? a whole new tree growing out of the old tree cut off. It’s exasperating when you are trying to get rid of a tree where you don’t want it in your garden. But what a powerful symbol of the persisting, resurrecting, tenacious, life affirming Spirit! New life where you thought there was only death.

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. And probably, I haven’t had my soul tuned to gratitude, and wonder, and inspiration and joy. Maybe I’ve been around too much negative thinking; focused on poverty 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. 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.

When I get like this, I know it is time to shift the focus, to look with new eyes, to notice what I am grateful for, what gives me joy and hope, where I experience God in my days. Where I choose to focus, makes a huge difference to what I see. I begin to see what is possible and then work to make it happen.

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. Hearing the music of God’s future; but having the courage to dance that music today, even when everyone else is not listening to that same music. Jesus surely did this in his life. One ear tuned to God, but living and dancing and courageously embodying that vision in his now. The words from Luke’s gospel are written many centuries after Jeremiah after another destruction of the nation… Rome this time had invaded, destroyed the temple a second time, and dispersed the people, bringing many back to Rome slaves forced to walk under the Roman arch celebrating the triumph and defeat of Judah. That arch still stands in Rome.

Though Jesus was no longer alive when this happened, the gospel writer was very much aware of it and remembers a parable of Jesus about paying attention and looking out for the signs of the times. He says “Look at the fig tree, or any other tree. As soon as it buds, you can see for yourself that summer is near”. He suggests that we seem to be smart enough to figure out what budding trees mean, but we need to pay attention to other signs to see where the kingdom of God is near. We need to be awake, on the lookout for God. We need as Kuzmic says to hear the music of the future, and have the courage of our faith to dance it today.

Interesting that both our images of hope for the future come from looking at the signs of the times in nature. Perhaps our times, as no other demands that we pay attention to what is going on in creation, to the destruction of rainforests, the decimation of species, to the warming of our globe, which is at crisis level. As we read the signs of the times in creation, we need to listen for the Creator’s intention, and dance the music of faith as we work for the healing of our planet. These are crisis times.

And perhaps as we do that the last quote on hope I’ll share has particular poignancy. It comes from Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners says, “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” Let us continue to hope and pray for an enforceable climate change agreement out of Copenhagen, and watch the glimmers of possibility that it might actually happen despite the naysaying of our own Canadian government. I long to watch the evidence that world leaders, especially our own do not have the will to make this happen change. And I encourage all of us to let our Prime Minister know how we feel about his resistance to being part of that 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.

Hope is sustained by connecting with people who are hopers; being part of communities and movements 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. When we work together for change and for justice, we are empowered. We feel hope coming alive when we 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…offering healing presence. In all these simple ways folks are daring to hope and many of these happen through this very congregation.

Let’s keep being a community that dares to hope. Here we can work for the justice and healing in which we believe. Where we can help one another grow and heal, and connect with life that is worth living. Let’s continue to choose hope, and to nourish and sustain one another as a people of hope.

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