New Hope: A Hope Awakens

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

December 1, 2019

Jeremiah 33:14-18

Welcome to Advent! I know some of you think “Advent” is Latin for “why can’t we sing Christmas Carols yet?”, but in fact, adventus means arriving, or something about to begin. It is the beginning of the church year, and is a period of preparation and of active waiting for Jesus to arrive.

This coming of Jesus has multiple meanings. In 4 weeks, we will remember the night when a child was born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. We prepare for his birth, we prepare to welcome Immanuel, God With Us, to open our hearts to welcome him into our lives in new and meaningful ways.

And we are also waiting for his return.

Which means that Advent is not a period of linear time. It is a period of God’s time. Yes, Christmas will be here in 24 days, but we wait for a baby to be born who has already been born.

Time in advent is disorienting and calls us to loosen the grip on our calendars in which we place so much trust. Because the Advent, the arrival of God, is beyond our scheduling and control.

And we’re given this passage from Jeremiah to start it off.

The Prophet Jeremiah is a bit of a drag, truth be told. If you read through his whole book at one time, it might depress you a bit. In his defense, he was working with people who had forgotten their part in God’s story, They had forgotten to tell how their stories were connected to God’s bigger narrative of hope, of deliverance, of a future with hope and promise. They had worshiped the false gods of Babylon. And they had made up their own stories, where they were the heroes.

There is much gloom, despair, and agony on me in Jeremiah’s story. If it weren’t for bad luck, they’d have no luck at all, as the prophets of Hee Haw once said.

Things do not go well for Judah in these days.

This passage is from King Zedekiah’s reign, in 586 BCE, as I’m sure you already know. This is ten years after the first Babylonian defeat of Jerusalem, when the first citizens were carted off into exile.  Babylon is again besieging a city that remembers what happened just a few years back.

Jeremiah is in prison himself, under suspicion of being a traitor.

Lest you think being a prophet is easy work, remember there are risks when you prophesy the defeat of your own team at the hands of your enemy. The failure of the political system in Israel does not mean that Israel has no hope, Jeremiah reminds them.

God’s Word of hope will come to the people when all around is under siege and when all hope seems lost.

It is to people without hope that Jeremiah gives them God’s word of a New Hope:

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. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’m excited about the new movie coming out at Christmas. And I’m grateful to Pastor David Hansen who first put these Narrative Lectionary texts into a Star Wars theme for Advent sermons. “New Hope” is the name of the original film released in 1977, for those of you who aren’t nerds.

And while our sermon series is a clever tie-in to the soon to be released movie, The Rise of Skywalker, it is more than that. In the original Star Wars movie, back when Harrison Ford was young, ok, back when everyone was young, a droid named R2D2 shows up with a message recorded for the reclusive Ben Kenobi. “Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope”.

And so begins the saga.

I hate to spoil a 40 year old movie for anyone, but Obi Wan Kenobi was NOT their only hope. And neither was any droid, rebel fighter, or wookie. If there was any hope in the Star Wars movies, it was the hope that came when people came together to contribute to a better world, each of them using the particular gifts they’d been given. That’s not a bad thing, to be sure. It brings new hope. But it is not our ultimate hope.

I’ve been re-watching the Star Wars movies in anticipation of the new film, and I’m struck by how often the forces of evil are this close to winning. Hope is hard to see. The people of Jerusalem being besieged by Babylon would have understood.

One of the characters in the third trilogy of the films is Finn. He wants to do the right thing, but fear is strong in him, and he continues to try to run, to flee the First Order (the current Babylon/Empire in these films).

Finn had been stolen by the First Order as a child, and turned into a stormtrooper. Even when he escapes from that life because he doesn’t want to do their bad deeds, he can’t help but believe their terror and power and fear are the only realities he can trust. For Finn, hope is a fantasy, not something real to believe in. He also can’t get past the idea that he must be a bad person because he was raised by bad people.

It is his relationships with the other characters in the film, the members of the resistance, that call Finn back to his better angels. They call him a good man, a hero, even when he feels like a coward and a bad man. Their hope in him calls him back to hope in both himself and in working for a better world, even when things look grim.

They help him turn away from his fear, and toward hope.

Jeremiah tries to call the citizens of Judah back to their better angels too. He tries to remind them that just because they were raised by storm troopers who didn’t worship God doesn’t mean they have to be storm troopers. Just because they were raised to worship false gods doesn’t mean they have to believe in the fear of those false gods and evil empires. They don’t have to live in fear, even when the bad guys seem certain to win.

Hope awakens when we don’t abandon each other at the urging of tyrants when the enemy is at the gates.

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.

Do we trust the days are surely coming, that hope will awaken?

Do we trust in our ability to trust in something other than what we see, what we’re told to fear?

Do we trust that we are better together than we are alone?

A few weeks ago, we heard Isaiah’s promise of a shoot coming from the stump of Jesse. Jeremiah’s promise is similar. “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.”

As Christians, we see that promise fulfilled in the person of Jesus. He’s the descendant of David and Jesse. We recognize Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets, even if Isaiah and Jeremiah weren’t thinking of Jesus when they wrote.

Our hope is in the birth of a baby born in Bethlehem. A child who will disrupt the order of the world by showing us, ever and again, that we belong to each other. A child who will take on the pain of the world and transform it into something divine, sacred, and holy.

Hope doesn’t always make sense. There was no reason for the heroes of the Star Wars saga, in any generation, to have hope. They were always out-gunned, out-manned, out-planned by the Empire or the First Order.

Think of all the other stories in history where hope carried the day, even if it made no rational sense.

George Washington and the colonial troops against the might of the British army.

Sixty thousand Hungarian Jews were saved from Nazi Concentration camps in World War 2 because one man, Carl Lutz, a diplomat in Switzerland wrote letters giving passage to Switzerland or Palestine. When that wasn’t enough, he’d use his diplomatic credentials to pull people off cattle cars headed to the camps.

He could have said, ‘what is one man against the Nazi empire? There’s nothing I can do’.

For those sixty thousand people, we’re thankful he didn’t give up hope because the odds seemed too long.

If we’re looking for them, there are so many stories of hope, where one person, or a small group of people, manage to topple disastrous empires, save lives.

Who needs new hope in our world today? And how can we be the people to provide it?

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.

As we prepare for the Advent of God, let us do so for all of God’s children. Whether we’re collecting Christmas dinners for families at the school next door or hats and gloves, or supporting missions across the world, Christ’s arrival brings hope for all, not just for a few. When Jeremiah spoke of hope awakening, it was for all creation to be redeemed, not just the faithful who come to church on Sundays.

One of my friends shared this quote from a book by Phillips Brooks, who wrote 100 years ago:

“We rejoice in life because it seems to be carrying us somewhere; because its darkness seems to be rolling on towards light, and even its pain to be moving onward to a hidden joy. We bear with incompleteness, because of the completeness which is prophesied and hoped for.”

In a few minutes, we will gather around the Table, which is a sign of our hope. Here at the Table, God reveals God’s love for us by reminding us of the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth. Much like Advent, the Communion Table is also an event in God’s time. God calls us to this Table to remember a meal 2,000 years ago, a meal we couldn’t possibly remember.

Like the birth of a child in Bethlehem, we do remember. We remember that Jesus was one of us, ate dinner with his friends, laughed and shared fellowship. We remember his betrayal, his death, and his resurrection from death. He tells us to remember this meal until he comes again.

And so Advent begins with, our church year begins as hope awakens. A reminder to enter into God’s time. A reminder to prepare. A reminder to hope.

May hope awaken in us as we prepare in this season.


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