1 Advent Yr A
November 30, 2007 Leave a comment
1 Advent Yr A, 2/12/2007
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson,
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Living in Hope”
You may remember the story of the long and rough Atlantic crossing where the seasick passenger was leaning over the rail of the ocean liner and had turned several shades of green. A steward came along and tried to cheer him up by saying, “Don’t be discouraged, sir! You know, no one’s ever died of seasickness yet!” The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with baleful eyes and replied: “Oh, don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!”1
I hope that it’s NOT only the hope of dying that’s kept us alive this long! Although we need not fear death, and are given hope after death—nonetheless, today in our first passage from Isaiah we are given the opportunity to live in hope. Today we begin another new Church Year with this first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is the Sunday of hope.
I don’t know if you noticed it, but in the opening verse of our first lesson, it is the faculty of seeing more so than of hearing or speaking that is emphasised. Isaiah the Jerusalem prophet and preacher is given a beautiful vision of hope: “The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz SAW concerning Judah and Jerusalem. As the old adage has it, a picture contains at least one thousand words. What a wonderful picture-vision of future hope Isaiah describes here today! Mount Zion—another name for Jerusalem and the temple there—shall be the highest of all mountains. Here the prophet is likely meaning higher not in the literal sense of feet or kilometres; rather, in the sense of the most important place on earth spiritually, insofar as it is the place where humankinds’ highest dreams and hopes shall come into fruition. It shall be God’s capital city of all nations. Peoples from all directions shall flock to it for God’s instruction, God’s Torah, or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “He’ll—i.e. God will—show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” I like that, we shall be able to live the way God has truly made us to live. That is to say, it will be a living in hope because God shall exercise his perfect power to judge and arbitrate the nations which shall produce the result of transforming completely the way the world exits. The consequences of God’s judgement and arbitration shall be the beating of swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. Weapons of war and death shall become agricultural implements of peace and life—people shall no longer learn war any more. The endless resources presently being put into war shall end. Then there shall be enough resources to live in peace and prosperity for all nations. No more divisions of the world and its peoples into rich nations and poor nations. There shall be enough of everything for people to live healthy, meaningful, contented lives.
WOW! What a vision of hope that is! A vision of living hope for hundreds of thousands—even millions—of people down through the ages, right up until today. Is it for real, or is it too good to be true? Will the day ever come when God can actually right all wrongs and solve all of the world’s most difficult problems? Commenting on this passage, one scholar, Rev. Victor Zinkuratire, writes: Faced with so many problems that have no obvious solutions, Africans need to hear this message as an antidote to fatalism and as a prod to action.
Reading this poem in the context of contemporary Africa, with its seemingly insurmountable problems, one may be tempted to shun the challenge by trying to convince oneself that the opening phrase “In days to come” refers to the world beyond time rather than our present one. Certainly the Hebrew phrase can refer to the end time…but it can also refer to events within time…. It is in this latter sense that we in Africa should understand the phrase if we want this word of God to be a source of hope for us in our present hopelessness.2
I would suggest that it is not only the continent of Africa and its peoples that face such seemingly unresolved problems; rather, it is all nations and every people from every land who would do well to live in this hope during the present time with a view to a hope-filled future in anticipation of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
In the 1999 movie, Music Of The Heart, based on the true story of single parent, Roberta Guaspari (Meryl Streep), who, against all obstacles, pursues her vocational dream of teaching violin to children in an inner-city school. Roberta faces resistance from teachers, parents, and students alike.
However, with sheer perseverance, and a deep love for the children and the music, Roberta’s program and teaching talents produces successful and popular results. Several of her students gain enough confidence and inspiration to further their education and develop promising careers—including her own two sons.
Nonetheless, after ten years of teaching, the school district authorities threaten to eliminate Roberta’s program due to budget cutbacks. Roberta decides to fight back and discovers that several others—including world class professional musicians—support her cause and agree to perform a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall.
Music of The Heart is a contemporary story that epitomizes, among other things, what it means to live in hope in the present and for the future. As Claire Booth Luce once said: “There is no such thing as a hopeless situation. There are only people who have gotten hopeless about it.”
Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we are given the opportunity to begin again; to give up our false or misplaced hopes and renew our true hopes; to dream dreams; see visions like the prophet Isaiah; to live in hope now and for the future. The first candle of Advent is burning now and serves as a reminder of walking in the light of the LORD. Jesus our Light, has come, is ever coming in the everyday ordinary events of life, and, one day, shall come again to fulfill all of the biblical prophecies in a complete, definitive way. That is our hope, which gives us more than enough to live for in the present and for the future!
Our lives are like this first Advent candle of hope; they can shine light in the dark places of our community, our city, our province, our nation and world. It often starts out small—like baby Jesus did in a humble manger long ago. Yet, the more we exercise and live in hope, the larger it grows, until more and more people’s lives are touched by: a simple smile, a kind word, a loving deed, a heartfelt prayer, a shedding of tears, and shared joyful laughter. As lights burning with the Light of Christ in us and through us we can and do make a difference—spreading God’s life transforming hope to one and all! Ours is a living hope, for we worship and serve a living Messiah as he comes to us in and through life’s everyday events and the worshipping community gathered around the word and sacrament. Amen, come Lord Jesus!
1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 292.
2 Victor Zinkuratire, “Isaiah 1-39,” in: Daniel Patte, General Editor, Global Bible Commentary (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), p. 192.