First Sunday in Advent (Year A, 28 November 2010)

Hope in all things


Readings
Isaiah 2.1-5
Matthew 24.36-44

It’s Advent. I’ve already heard Christmas carols while shopping—just next door in Coles, of all places.

‘Advent’ simply means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. The Season of Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation for the ‘arrival’ of Jesus. But it’s not just preparation and anticipation for celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

We are also directed by the Lectionary readings to prepare for and anticipate what the arrival of Jesus meant—that is, the coming of a King who would bring God’s justice and peace to the people.

So we’re also being reminded to get ready for the arrival of Jesus on that day when the prayer of Jesus (and our prayer) is finally realised—‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. We are reminded today to hope for a day when the future that God dreams of, the future of God’s shalom, of peace and wellbeing for all people, when that future is finally here. Do you, do I, trust that it will come?

The music we heard before the service is called Spem in Alium, which is Latin for Hope in all Things. It was written by Thomas Tallis around 1570 for Elizabeth I. I love it—I want it at my funeral. But do I still hope now, wile I’m still drawing breath, for that day when God’s justice will come?

What are you hoping for? It seems to me that we often limit ourselves to small hopes. Little, safe hopes that won’t rock our world too much if they come true, and won’t change our world that much if they don’t. As Christmas nears, we might hope for an iPad, a special DVD, or someone else to cook the turkey this time. We might hope for Uncle Joe not to snore all Christmas afternoon like he did last year.

These are manageable hopes, reasonable hopes, safe hopes. These are hopes that delight us if they happen, but if they don’t we’ll cope.

Christian hope is of a very different order. It is a big hope. It’s even bigger than the Barmy Army’s hope that England might retain the Ashes. Christian hope is our hope that God is good, that God comes good on his promises. It’s hope that the world isn’t here for no purpose, it’s hope that our lives have a purpose. And it’s hope that God will finally reveal that purpose, that the kingdom of God will be fully here. It’s already here—we catch glimpses of it when people are fed, clothed, or set free. Can we hope seriously ‘big’—can we hope that God’s kingdom will be fully here one day?

Hope sometimes eludes us. A minister was in a plane, seated next to a rather nervous lady. There was a lot of turbulence, and the plane was in trouble. Suddenly an engine failed and the plane began to lose altitude.

The pilot’s voice came over the intercom. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the best we can do now is pray!’ The rather nervous lady didn’t catch the words, and said to the minister:

‘What did he say?’

‘He says it’s hopeless,’ said the minister.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a sign of hope to the people of Burma, and indeed the world. We can’t say she has a ‘Christian’ hope; after all, she’s a Buddhist. It seems to me that her hope has been deeply nurtured by her Buddhist practice. When she was released I remarked to Karen that a person without faith could not sustain hope for as long as Aung San Suu Kyi has. I can’t imagine the ‘cultured despisers’ of Christian faith, people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, being able to sustain their hope for almost fifteen years’ house arrest.

What ‘hope’ does Aung San Suu Kyi symbolise? Is it a short-term hope? Is it hope for free and fair elections in Burma? That would be good.

Is it hope that if she were again elected, she would put things right in Burma? That would be good too, though the history of politics shows that good people can’t always achieve all the good things they’d wish to do.

Does Aung San Suu Kyi symbolise the ‘big’ hope that freedom is stronger than repression, that love is stronger than death, that goodness is stronger than evil? I really hope so, but of course only the Burmese people can answer that.

Twenty nine miners lost their lives during the week in New Zealand. Tony Jones is a well-known and well-respected Australian journalist, who fronts Lateline on ABC-1, and he was interviewing Rev Marge Tefft, the minister of the Anglican Church in Greymouth, where the men were from.

Tony Jones comes across as a warm and genuinely caring man in the transcript of this interview. So please don’t hear any criticism of him from me. But listen to what is said about hope. The Rev Marge Tefft says:

[Greymouth] is a small and close-knit community, which means that everybody knows somebody linked with this catastrophe and therefore we’re all feeling it in the guts…

There was such a glimmer of hope this morning when the bore hole had gone through and the robots were moving and the miner’s lamp was found, and then to get the news this afternoon that there’d been the second explosion and now no hope really has devastated us.

TONY JONES: You conducted a service tonight yourself. First of all, that must have been very emotional and I’m wondering what the mood was and what you said to the people at the service?

MARGE TEFFT: Yes, this was a prayer vigil. We had scheduled them for every night this week for a half hour, 7.30 to 8. The mood was one of deep sadness and grief, as you can imagine, and yet the people had gathered to cling to each other and to look to God for help. And so in that sense, there is hope.

Not so much the hope that the miners are coming out, but hope that we are going to get through this, that God’s going to be with us to see us through, that even though this tragedy is going to mark this community forever, it is one that we are going to get through and hopefully be stronger for in the end.

TONY JONES: Did it break the tension or did it make things worse to be told by someone that there was no hope anymore?

Was there hope or was there no hope? Which is it?

It all depends on what you’re hoping for. There was no hope for the safe return of their men for the families and for the people of Greymouth. We all feel their sadness and their grief. We would have loved an outcome like the one in Chile just a few weeks ago, where every trapped miner was rescued.

We feel for those who have lost husbands and lovers and sons and brothers.

The Rev Marge Tefft pointed us to some of the wider dimensions of Christian hope in that interview with Tony Jones:

  • the people had gathered at prayer meetings to cling to each other and to look to God for help;
  • the people of Greymouth can get through this ordeal—God will be with them to see them through;
  • and even though this tragedy will mark this community forever, they may be stronger for it in the end.

Christian hope is strong because the One we hope in was crucified, and on the third day was given resurrection life by God.

Christian hope endures because our risen Lord brought forgiveness and peace from the grave.

Christian hope brings victory because we know that if things are hopeless in earthly terms, we are God’s beloved sons and daughters and God will never let us go. Even death cannot sever us from God.

Christian hope is firm ‘in all things’, as in the title of the song by Thomas Tallis.

Let our prayer be that God’s Spirit will work in the spirits of the people of Greymouth to help them to hope, even though their hope is gone.

As Christians, we are called to hope ‘big’. Our hope is in the God who made heaven and earth, whose kingdom is surely coming. We can truly hope in all things, in each and every circumstance.

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