Advent: A Season of Hope
Old Testament Reading- Isaiah 64:1-9
New Testament Reading- Mark 13:24-37
By Henry J. Rafferty CLP -November 29, 2020
Advent, first what is Advent? Advent is a name that is taken from the Latin, adventus
and means “coming or arrival,” and refers to the birth, and the second coming of Christ. In the Church, it is the season of the liturgical year that leads up to the celebration of the Nativity or birth of the Messiah, that we recognize as Jesus Christ. It is a celebrated in the Roman Catholic, Western Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Moravian, Presbyterian, and
Methodist Christian denominations and starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and concludes on Christmas Eve.
It is not known exactly when Advent was first celebrated by the Church, but we can trace it back to at least the year 480 and the season is generally associated with a period of fasting related to penitence and as a time when Christians prepare their hearts and minds to the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”
We celebrate each of the four Sundays of Advent with the focus on four different aspects of the coming of Christ. This first week we focus on ‘Hope,’ but what do we need hope for anyway? Hope that we get what we want for Christmas, hope for a white Christmas, or maybe hope that this pandemic ends sooner than later. Even though we may hope for all those things this hope goes much deeper and starts all the way back to original sin and continues up until this very day.
Some people have known since the dawn of time that we, meaning humanity, have needed God, but not all of us. God chose Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob to separate out and guide to become His chosen people. This people, known as the Israelites, would not have it easy. It is not easy to be one of God’s own, it is not easy because it requires us to go against our own sinful natures and try to follow the ways of a Perfect God. This people, the Israelites, were captive in Egypt for four hundred years and the book of Exodus tells us of the way that God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage by following the Lord. They were a stubborn and rebellious people and they gave up on God many times, so much so, that God let them wander in the desert for forty years until all of the generation of adults that had left Egypt were no more and only their children and grandchildren remained. This group He led into the Promised Land and they would prosper as a nation for some 680 years under the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. In this time the people had grown distant from God. 2 Kings 17:7-20 states:
“All this took place because the Israelites had sinned against the Lord their God, who had brought them up out of Egypt from under the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. They worshiped other gods 8 and followed the practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before them, as well as the practices that the kings of Israel had introduced. 9 The Israelites secretly did things against the Lord their God that were not right. From watchtower to fortified city they built themselves high places in all their towns. 10 They set up sacred stones and Asherah poles on every high hill and under every spreading tree. 11 At every high place they burned incense, as the nations whom the Lord had driven out before them had done. They did wicked things that aroused the Lord’s anger. 12 They worshiped idols, though the Lord had said, “You shall not do this.”[a] 13 The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: “Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.”
14 But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their ancestors, who did not trust in the Lord their God. 15 They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.” 16 They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. 17 They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sought omens and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence. Only the tribe of Judah was left, 19 and even Judah did not keep the commands of the Lord their God. They followed the practices Israel had introduced. 20 Therefore the Lord rejected all the people of Israel; he afflicted them and gave them into the hands of plunderers, until he thrust them from his presence.”
God allowed many of the Israelites of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to be defeated and taken captive into Assyria as slaves. He allowed foreigners to inhabit much of the Promised Land. The book of Isaiah 64:1-9 tells us:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! 2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! 3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. 4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. 5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? 6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to[b] our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.”
The Israelites remembered God and poured themselves out in prayer to Him and God remembered them as well. He brought them back out of captivity and back to the Promised Land. He also promises them hope for the future, someone to save them from their sins that continue to separate them from God. This sinful nature that is so hard, in fact, impossible for us to defeat on our own would need a champion to achieve it. God would be that champion.
In today’s day, is it really that different? We often can’t see ourselves in our ancient relatives, but Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us,
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”
Translation: God has seen it all, we are no different now as human beings have been for millennia. We never fully remember their wrongs enough to change our own and those that follow us will make the same mistake. It takes God to do what is impossible for us.
A single mother has a baby, not planned, but a new life has been born. The father is long gone, the minute he found out she was pregnant-he split. She has no one, she left her parents three years ago after an argument where she told her parents that she didn’t need them anymore and she was sick and tired of their rules and their old-fashioned ways. The world was her oyster, she was smart, good-looking, had a good job; she needed no one but herself. She had a great apartment, not a new car, but a good car. She had friends and money, what else did she need? She went to a party one night and met a great looking guy there, well one thing led to another and nine months later she is not alone. As I said before though, the minute she told that great looking guy she was pregnant; he was gone. He had a great life too and wasn’t going to be hindered by what he deemed a mistake. That’s alright, she thought, I have lots of friends to help. Well, it seems the friends were too busy to help and hey, it was not their fault she got pregnant, it's her problem. She would do it herself, she always had anyway, she didn’t need anyone before and she succeeded, she won’t need anyone now.
Weeks go by, then months, the young woman that was so full of confidence and sass is now becoming unraveled. She still has to work, so taking the child to daycare is not a cheap date and when she gets home the baby just won’t stop fussing. This young woman is getting hardly any sleep, she is running out of money fast, and she has zero time for anything, in fact, she can barely have time to buy groceries. She and the baby are starting to go downhill, she knows that the reason the baby is crying so much is because she is not getting enough sleep or affection and the young woman’s lack of experience with babies doesn’t help. She doesn’t know what to do, she is failing, and she knows it.
Then one night she receives a text message. “Hi, haven’t heard from you in a long time. Hope everything is alright. Just want to hear your voice and know that you are Ok. Love you, Mom.” The young girl reads the message and almost collapses, she is overwhelmed with emotion. She has never felt this way before all at once, the message has made her feel: ashamed, regretful, sad, happy, and loved. She thinks for a moment, then texts back, “I am so sorry Mom, I love you.” Her mother is overcome by the text message, so she calls her daughter. They talk and the young woman tells her mother that she has a baby and the whole story that goes with it. Her mother, after an initial shock of finding that she is now a grandmother softly tells her daughter that everything will be alright and that she would come over in the morning. The young woman humbled herself to her parents who took her in with open arms and loving hearts. The young woman couldn’t believe how they had helped without any question or without saying, “I told you so.” She hadn’t felt this way about them since she was a young girl. She loved them so much, she had just forgotten, because she couldn’t see through her own desires.
The baby had come around quickly, there was more than enough now to eat and the baby was showered with affection, and the mother raised four children, she knows a trick or two about babies, especially ones that have a little gassy stomach. The day care bill went away too, between herself, her parents, and her sister, the baby was well taken care of. Her family had saved her, a little helping hand was all that was needed to get her back on her feet and to give her baby the good start it needed.
She loved them so much, she had just forgotten, because she couldn’t see through her own desires.
Nothing was ever said about getting pregnant out of wedlock, living selfishly, or crawling back to her parents. She learned from her parents that she really was loved, more than she ever realized and that what she perceived as too strict of rules was just them trying to show her the right way, to protect her. She learned that it was Ok to need someone else and that we cannot do everything on our own, sometimes we need some help.
Just like the Israelites, the young lady learned that if we go against the advice of someone who knows better than we do, we can end up in a bad way, but when we allow ourselves to be helped and we humble ourselves, good things happen. Neither the Israelites or the young woman listened to advice and neither of them deserved help based on their actions, but help was given anyway. God gives us that hope. He tells us that He loved the world so much that He would send His only Son, to right what we made wrong, to achieve what we could not. That is the hope that we received over 2,000 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem. The hope of a savior that would save us from our sins so that we could return to our right relationship with God.
But we are not done yet.
The story is not yet over.
We still live in a sinful world and we are still, like the ancient Israelites, a rebellious and stiff-necked people.
We still need a Savior.
We are coming into the time of the celebration of His birth and we know of His sacrifice on the cross for us.
But we must remember that He rose from the dead and is alive today and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. We must remember that He will come again to take us that believe to where He is too. That is still our hope for what is yet to come. Jesus says that we will not know when and that only the Father knows when the last stage of the plan will take place. But be ready, don’t let Him find you sleeping when He comes. This time He will not come as a baby in a manger but will come in great glory so that none will question.
Emmanuel, means “God is with us.” O come, O come, Emmanuel. Rejoice, Rejoice Emmanuel has come and is coming back again, our hope is secure! Thanks be to God, Amen.