Hello world from the Dim Lamp Blog

1 Advent Yr C, 3/12/2006

Jer 33:14-16

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

“The days are surely coming”

Once upon a time, a manufacturer of shoes sent two salespersons to a far-away land. Shortly after their arrival, he received an e-mail from each salesperson. One pleaded: “Get me out of here—no one wears shoes!” The other requested: “Send me more inventory—everyone needs shoes!”

   In today’s first lesson, the prophet Jeremiah is kind of like the salesperson requesting more shoes; he offers the people of Judah and Jerusalem a message of hope, beginning with the words: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” And yet, ironically, by temperament, Jeremiah seems, most of the time, to have been like the first salesperson—not all that hopeful. This little oracle of hope is almost out of sync for Jeremiah, in that the circumstances were most likely anything but hopeful. Jeremiah was probably serving time in jail, because he prophesied against the king, Zedekiah, and the people of Judah and Jerusalem, charging them with being unfaithful to the LORD and his covenant with them. Moreover, to add insult to injury, Jeremiah had said that the present siege of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadrezzar and his Babylonian army was God’s instrument of punishment upon the people of Jerusalem and Judah, thus it was pointless to resist them. Such a prophetic message went over like a lead balloon, no wonder Jeremiah was in jail. In contemporary times, it might be compared with something like a North American Christian leader prophesying that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida are going to invade us and this time it’s pointless to resist them, for they are God’s instrument of wrath upon us. Such a leader might also very well be thrown into jail and most North Americans would likely reject and condemn their message.

   And yet, Jeremiah remains faithful to God and proclaims this oracle of hope in spite of the immediate situation of hopelessness. The days are surely coming, Jeremiah prophesies, when the Messiah-King shall come to rule with justice and righteousness. At times it is difficult for people to live with hope. And yet, where there’s life there’s hope; and where there’s hope there’s life.

   Several years ago, Desmond Tutu, bishop of South Africa wrote a book called Hope And Suffering. It was a very fitting title, and true to life in his country at the time. When people were dragged down by the apartheid regime; Bishop Tutu and other Christian leaders were proclaiming oracles of hope. Life in South Africa would change, the days are surely coming; don’t lose hope; don’t give up on life. Bishop Tutu himself lived that message of hope and inspired hundreds of thousands of his native country to do the same. And, lo and behold, that hope, in the midst of suffering, gave birth to new life, the apartheid regime came to an end, and a multicultural, multiracial nation, united to live and work for peace and justice, forgiveness and love for all South Africans.

   In our world today, there is a legion of reasons to live without hope. All around there is so much suffering, evil and injustice. We see the situation in Darfur, the Middle East, North Korea, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, to name only some of them, and we wonder, is there any hope? Is hope real or only an idealistic dream?

   According to Robert L. Richardson, researchers have identified at least four hope processes. Hope as an experiential process. Dynamic hope seems to arise in the context of suffering, illness, and death. Suffering is the greatest challenge to hope, and yet it is also true as St. Paul says, that “suffering produces…hope” (Rom 5:4-5). It makes sense that modern philosophy and theology of hope arose out of the Holocaust and that hope has been studied especially in relation to cancer and AIDS.   Hope as a spiritual or transcendent process. Many people use spiritual resources such as prayer, meditation, and guided imagery in their hoping process. Biblical hope is not just “hope for” a specific outcome, but “hope in God,” as the Psalmist proclaims (42:5, 11; 43:5; etc). Hope is able to transcend the finite, and when finite hopes are dashed, to emerge like the Phoenix from the ashes. That is the meaning of resurrection hope in Christian theology.    Hope as rational thought process. A central dimension of hope is the provision of some sense of control. If patients can’t control their illness, they can control, as Frankl notes, their response to it. …therapists and caregivers need to be skilled in helping patients to set and work toward realizable goals. This is psychosocial hope.

   Hope as relational process. Family, friends, and caregivers contribute to the maintenance of hope. One of the most moving parts of Frankl’s story is how his relationship to his wife nurtured his hope. He experienced her love for him and his love for her when he didn’t know whether she was dead or alive.1

   The days are surely coming, says Jeremiah, and as we begin a new Church Year, with this first Sunday of Advent, we look forward to those coming days of waiting, watching, yearning, and hoping for our Messiah-King; for new life; for a new beginning; for justice and love; peace and joy among all peoples. Hope is real; it’s perhaps most real in the midst of suffering and hopelessness. Whether it’s the people of Judah and Jerusalem under siege by the Babylonians; whether it’s the troubled spots in the world today; whether it’s the poor, homeless, unemployed, or underemployed here in Canada, in our province and city; the days are surely coming when a Saviour, the Messiah-King shall be born; shall grow up and live among us; shall teach and preach among us; shall work miracles among us; shall face cruel suffering and meet a criminal’s death at the hands of the corrupt and powerful; shall be raised from death three days later; shall promise to live with us and through us until the end of time; shall one day draw all people to himself to complete all of history and inaugurate the new heavens and the new earth and the new holy city, Jerusalem. Such is our hope, yesterday, today, and forever, for: “The LORD is our righteousness,” the Branch from David’s line, Jesus whom we wait for, our Messiah-King. For this is still God’s world, which God loves. He is in control. This is our message of hope to and for a suffering, hopeless world. The world still needs a Saviour, more than ever, Jesus the Messiah-King. Don’t give up, for the days are surely coming. So this Advent we live, wait and hope for the days that are surely coming.  Amen.         

1 Robert L. Richardson, “Where There is Hope, There is Life: Toward a Biology of Hope,” in The Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 54, No. 1, Spring 2000, pp. 75-79.

My weblog name, Dim Lamp, is a variation from verse three, chapter forty-two of Isaiah, or referred to by scholars as Second Isaiah. This is the first of four Servant Songs in Second Isaiah (see Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12). Scholars hold a wide range of views about the identity of the Servant–everything from a contemporary prophet (perhaps Second Isaiah him/herself, or a child of the prophet’s), to collective Israel, to one of Judah’s kings or future kings, to the Messiah. Many (perhaps most) Christian scholars have viewed the Servant as Jesus, hence interpreting the Servant Songs as references to the future rather than the historical circumstances out of which they were written.

I love the picture of the Servant’s tenderness and compassion towards those who are suffering or in exile. The Servant shall not break a bruised reed, he will not quench a dimly burning wick. This is a classic example of God’s “preferential option for the poor,” as the liberation theologians speak of it. It is a reminder to all that God loves and has a special place in his heart for the underdog, the outcast, the forgotten, those who suffer, those who feel life is waning, the weak and the dying. I like this Servant Song because I think it speaks to my existential state of being. I am a sinner-saint, who stumbles and falls, my light is not very bright most of the time. Sometimes I wonder if it’s even a dim light. Yet, I’m encouraged by the Gospel parables of Jesus concerning salt, yeast and light. Too much salt and yeast ruins things. Too much light can be blinding, and death-dealing, life-threatening hot. Yet no light or hidden light is not an option either. So, here I am, a dim lamp, living with life’s greys, complexities and ambiguities, and realising that God works in rather unorthodox, mysterious ways in, through, with and often in spite of me/us.