Stumped by Hope

“Stumped by Hope”   Jeremiah 33:14-16
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2021

If you were stranded on an island and could have only one thing, what would it be, the one thing you would get that you couldn’t live without? That’s a tough question, isn’t it? My first thoughts: phone, an endless supply of coffee, a lifetime supply of soft toilet paper, a book, and Bible of course. What would you have to have? It’s tough to narrow down to that one thing you must have to survive. Our scripture lessons this morning help us out here, describing the one thing we must have when we feel isolated and helpless in our world. The one thing is hope.

HOPE IN OUR SORROWS AND SUFFERING

The people of Judah were feeling all alone in the sorrow of their city being destroyed and then their exile to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzer, having suffered the destruction of their homes, lives, and temple. Everything that was normal for them was now gone. And they wondered if that was true of their God as well. Jeremiah had warned the king and them as well that this day would come, and it did. We can get a feel for what that was like by listening to their songs of lament, like in Psalm 137, which begins with, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, yes, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” Around here, we would say they were singing the blues. You can hear those blue notes in their broken voices and spirits. Yet even at their bluest moment, there was still hope. Jeremiah spoke God’s words of that hope to them in the midst of it all.

Today, we have sorrow and suffering in our world. At different times in our lives, we know the pain of loss, the grieving for what once was or might have been, and the hopelessness of our existence in a world that was not our choosing. And we feel the collective angst of living in what seems like an endless pandemic and now Omicron, a new variant with the potential to bypass our vaccines and wreak havoc on people’s lives, hospitals, and economy. Racism and white supremacy continue to wreak havoc in our nation, as we’ve seen on display in two very public trials this week for Kyle Rittenhouse and for Ahmad Aubry. We wonder how there can ever be safety with so many people with so many guns and so much anger. We wonder about a future where democracy in our nation is under assault from within and the increasing potential for civil war. Like the people Jeremiah spoke to, we can so easily wonder if there will be a future with peace, wellness, and justice. Yet, in all of this, the words of hope from Jeremiah and Jesus find their way to us, calling us to lift our heads to see a better future even as we suffer. As Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

HOPE IN GOD’S PROMISE

Even as the people of Judah couldn’t forget the destruction of Jerusalem and all they held dear, Jeremiah reminded them of God’s promise to them to bring justice and righteousness. They were to hear once again that God’s promise would be fulfilled. It was Jeremiah’s purpose to keep that promise in front of them, pointing to the fulfillment of it in the future just as he reached back in their past to remind them of God’s faithfulness. 

In the midst of the hopelessness we may feel in our world today, we are to know of God’s promise to us. Like the people in Jeremiah’s time, all we may be able to see at this moment is a stump, reminding us of what once was and is no more. But we are to know that a branch of new life has already emerged and continues to grow. The arrival of Jesus will bring us safety and will deliver justice and righteousness in our world. It will right the wrongs of our world and bring them forth in full measure. It is during Advent that we remember that, though we have insecurity and there’s desolation all around us, there is a branch of new life growing from the stump of what once was. The season of Advent calls us to continue on in the losses and miseries we experience, never getting so overwhelmed by the problems of our lives and the challenges of our existence that we forget that what is now will not always be; that God is already doing a new thing, even if we can’t see it in full.

HOPE IN OUR WAITING

Jeremiah’s reminder of a promise was to give them hope while they waited. Notice the way he quotes what God has told him to say with the phrases, “The days are surely coming . . . “ and “In those days . . .” In other words, though it doesn’t look or feel like it now, it’s going to happen. Until then, their hope was to be active; one full of anticipation.

In our gospel text (Luke 21:25-36), Jesus instructed the disciples to watch actively and expectantly for God to act on God’s promise, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’” Like seeing the signs of life in the fig tree, they were to see the coming Kingdom of God in what Jesus was doing in their midst and in days to come.

In this season of Advent, we must know that waiting is an action rather than a passive position. The way we experience hope while waiting is by living each day with anticipation; watching for what God is doing in the world through Jesus. It is acting on the belief that God is doing a new thing in this old world. And, as the hands and feet of Jesus today, we help in the development of this new thing by allowing God to be active in and through us in our world. We can do it in this season of Advent in ways as simple as buying something to donate to the Christmas Shoppe so that low-income shoppers can purchase new items at a reduced cost for their loved ones. Or going with the Veterans Team to give hats and gloves to veterans in transition. You can also come help serve meals to people in the neighborhood at the Highland Blessing Dinner, work in the clothing closets, take immigrants to the airport to help them reconnect with their families, and call or visit members who aren’t able to attend church. These are just a few of the many actions we can do as we wait on God in our world.

I wish our Jeremiah text for today began a chapter earlier. It’s there that we see him going out and buying property in Jerusalem (chapter 32) even as the Babylonian army was building ramps to tear down the walls of the city. He knew what was about to happen, but he acted in faith that one day God would restore what was lost, just as God promised. 

May we do the same today with hope.

Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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