The Hope of Promise, The Promise of Hope


Here are the thoughts that I presented at Walker Valley UMC on the 1st Sunday of Advent, 3 December 2000. The scriptures for this Sunday are Jeremiah 33: 14 – 16, 1 Thessalonians 3: 9 – 13, and Luke 21: 25 – 36.

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I don’t know about you but I found that pairing of the prophecy of Jeremiah with the prophecy of the Second Coming of Jesus in Luke to be an interesting one. As this year began, there was much talk about the new millennium and Christ’s Second Coming. Just as Advent marks His First Coming, so too does the beginning of the third millennium renew interest in His Second Coming. But as this interest rises, we should make note of the fact that many modern day commentators feel that we never adequately dealt with his first one.

Second, it is important that we try not to nor should we get bogged down in schemes designed to locate the exact date and time of this occurrence. As Luke later wrote in Acts, Jesus told the disciples that it was not for them (or us) to know the time or the season when the Kingdom of God would be set up on earth.

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom of the Lord? And He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.” (Acts 1: 6 – 7)

In this passage, times refers to the chronology or duration of time — “how long.” Seasons refer to the epochs or “events” that occur within time. The disciples, and thus us, were not to know how long it would be before Christ set up His Kingdom, nor were they to know what events would transpire before its establishment. Peter later pointed out, in 1 Peter 1: 11 that even the Old Testament prophets did not know the timing between the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.

Jesus continued in verse 8 by pointing out the disciples should not be worried about the date of Christ’s return but rather to carry the message of the Gospel throughout the world. The same is true today. Our task is not to convince people but to testify to the truth of the Gospel.

Christ’s coming should be one of celebration, not fear. The truth of the Gospel should not be one of fear and retribution but rather hope and celebration. That was one of the reasons that Paul wrote the letters to the Thessalonians.

The season of Advent reminds us that Christ came to offer hope, to change the relationship between God and His people. In a society where the system of laws, rites, and institutions were the norm, such as was Israel at that time, it was very easy to forget that God was a living and constant presence in the world.

A world that relies on laws, rites, and institutions tends to forget and not see that their faith is a dynamic and living faith. The prophets of old cried out because of the conservative reliance on institutional approaches. Laws, creeds, and institutions are important. They must however, by design, be subservient to an understanding of God’s purpose for man. Laws served a purpose but laws do not define who God is. Because God is the living Lord, he can change the institutions, he can restated the creed, and he can renew the law, calling the people again to go out like Abraham. In fact, this is what happened in Christ.

It was Christ who took upon himself the form of a servant. He was the one who broke free from the ghetto of religious law and cultic regularity that had imprisoned the faithful.

It was Christ who emptied himself of all claims to timelessness and freely delivered himself up for us all — opening himself to our needs — even though that very openness lead to his death on the cross.

When the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus and wanted Him to rebuke the disciples for eating wheat on the Sabbath, in clear defiance of their interpretations of the rules of society, Jesus rebuked them. “You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel,” (Matthew 23: 23) he told them in no uncertain terms. In another instance, a woman accused of adultery was dragged before him. Again, it was clear that a law had been broken. Jesus could have easily won the scribes’ approval by upholding their sense of righteousness but, instead, he asked those who were without sin to cast the first stone.

When the trembling woman looked up at him, he said, “Where are your accusers?” She said, “They are gone.” He said, “Neither do I accuse you. Go in peace.” (John 8: 3 – 7, 11)  Tradition says that later this same woman sold everything to help support Jesus’ ministry.

By changing the nature of the law and the institution, Christ was able to meet the needs of the outcast, the hopeless, and the helpless. To these, Christ offered hope at a time when there was no hope of meaningful participation in the benefits of life. To those in despair, Christ offered acceptance when the world excluded them, dignity when it was denied them and spiritual guidance when the world around them cast them aside.

Paul, in Chapter 2 of his first letter to the Thessalonians, commented on the way the Word of God transformed the people, offering them a better reality that any other god might. He noted that they, the Thessalonians, could also contrast the grace and love of God through the Gospel with the legalism and pride often produced by the Jewish religion of that day. Paul then reminded the Thessalonians, in the reading for today, that when Christ is a part of our lives, that love and grace of God would shine through. Their goal (and ours) should then be to work so that others can see that love as well.

It was written that you could find the living God in the pages of the Bible. But you will also find him where you are. Nothing in you life is so insignificant or so small that you cannot find God at its center. We think of God in the dramatic things, the glorious sunsets, the majestic mountains, the tempestuous seas, but he is the little things as well. He is in the smile of the passer-by, the yellow glint of a daisy in a field, the falling leaves of early autumn.

God may make himself known to you through the life of someone you know. It may be that there is someone who loves you so deeply that you dare to believe that you are worth loving and so you believe that God’s love for you could be possible after all.

The season of Advent offers us both a hope and a promise. There are no limits to the ways that God may make himself known. Today Christ asks us to make the First Coming more than just words in print. He says to each and every one of us, “I called you out from the world to fashion for myself a people who know my grace and formed by love. Now the hour has come for you to see the signs of new hope that are being given to all of the world and to join Me in interpreting that hope, struggling to keep it free, and helping people to know Me as their Lord and Savior.” The call is very clear that just as we celebrate this season of Advent and the coming of Christ, we should help others so that they too can know the promise and hope that know.

 


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