restore hope: first sunday in advent

this was the sermon i preached last sunday, november 27 — first sunday of advent. the sermon series for advent is restore us, o god. enjoy [and disregard spelling and grammatical errors]

Let us pray: God, be present in this place. Open our hearts and our minds by your presence to hear what you say to us today. Amen. 

I know it is almost Christmas because outside the rink that I teach skating at, Christmas music has begun to play. I see Christmas lights outside, and Christmas trees through windows. The trees have arrived outside the church. We have lit the first advent candle, signifying our journey toward the birth of the Christ child. While the Christmas season asks us to hurry up and get everything done by December 24, the church calendar asks us to wait. We spend four Sundays saying “come, Lord Jesus” in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. We are waiting for God to work in our world – not just from far away but IN THE FLESH AND BLOOD. God comes down and brings a new way of living in Jesus, ushering in a way to live, love, and be in community with one another. Advent is a reminder that our world is hurting, and we need something. We wait for Jesus to come during this time to bring restoration.

In our scripture lessons for today, we find people who need restoration. In Psalm 80, the title being a “prayer for Israel’s Restoration,” there are many references to a people who need saving and restoration. The Psalm opens and closes with “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.” They are looking for something —  They are looking for a light in the midst of the darkness: They are looking for something called hope. They are lost, consumed, alienated, alone and are in need of hope and assurance. They make it quite clear that without hope for the future, they are doomed. They are crying out, in their own words, “come lord jesus.” And asking for a personal interaction with God. They don’t just want God to provide, but want to have face time with God.

The passage from Isaiah finds us in a time when a community is desperate for something real; something that satisfies. They beg and plead for forgiveness after what they have done. They want to see God’s face, and therefore make right the relationship between them and God. The people are in need of a new start, they put their hope then in God, not in themselves. The entire book of Isaiah speaks a lot about the image and coming of a new ruler who will usher in a new age of justice, righteousness, and peace – this idea would later develop into the concept of a messiah in early Jewish and Christian writings, thus leading to the understanding that Isaiah was prophesying the coming of Jesus – a new ruler, not like the ones the people of that day were familiar with. We hear an aching, a longing, a groaning in the community for something new – not uncommon of lamenting psalms, for God to intervene and appear in the ways of old. This can be seen in the first few verses that talk about the mountains quaking, fire appearing, nations trembling, etc. They are longing for God’s presence, and are almost reminding them to wait. Like we wait for Jesus, the messiah, God incarnate, during this time of advent to come and bring in a new way of life to us.

These people were facing issues not unlike our society is today. We hear of people in our own neighborhoods without food, we hear of the injustices all over the world of people dying from disease, of those being isolated from communities because of who they are. Like the psalmist, we too, ask to see God’s face. I know, often times I feel hurt by the news going on in the world and my prayer is often, “God, where are you in this mess? Show up when innocent people are being killed, and when there is injustice in the world. We need you more than ever.” Show your face in this broken, hurting world. In the midst of our asking, our suffering, our hurt feelings, our sadness, we are saying in our own words, Come, Lord Jesus.

But God shows up. God always seems to show up when we least expect it. So, in our desire to know that we are okay, that God is with us, God shows up. As a baby, in a manger, inviting love and compassion into our everyday life. Jesus doesn’t come with a magic wand, fixing all the problems of the world, but this time of year reminds us that God is active in the lives of humans. God is present, God shows up as a human, in the most vulnerable of ways to get to know and understand even us – each one of us sitting here in the pews, bringing us hope, saying “yes, I’m here. And I love you, my beloved child.” God loved us SO MUCH that he brought hope into the world through a baby in a diaper in a manger. Not a prince in a castle, but in a manger with animals all around. Not exactly the nicest of places, but it brings this message of hope that God can be active in all of our lives, not just in the ones who say they are perfect Christians, but in the ones who are living in the mangers and barns of todays worlds. God reaches way down to all of us, restoring our hope.

This simple prayer, Come, Lord Jesus, according to Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, “is a leap into the kind of freedom and surrender that is rightly called the virtue of hope. The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy because our Satisfaction is now at another level, and our Source is beyond ourselves. We are able to trust that God will come again, just as Jesus has come into our past, into our private dilemmas and into our suffering world. Our Christian prast then becomes our Christian prologue, and ‘Come Lord Jesus’ is not a cry of desperation, but an assured shout of cosmic hope.”

Hope is not just wishing for what is to come – but trusting that God is at work in each of our lives. We are hoping, living in anticipation of what God is going to do next. Advent prepares us for that, During this season of advent, God restores our hope in society, our hope in the world, and our hope in what God is doing in the world.

But what does hope look like in a society where there is hurt and pain and suffering? [This story comes from Rob Bell’s book, Sex God] In 1945, a group of British Soldiers liberated a German concentration called Bergen-Belsen. One of them, Lieutenant Colonel Mercin Willet Gonin DSO, wrote in his diary about what they encountered:

“I can give no adequate description of the Horror Camp in which my men and myself were to spend the next month of our lives. It was just a barren wilderness, as bare as a chicken run. Corpses lay everywhere…One knew that five hundred a day were dying and that five hundred a day were going on dying for weeks before anything we could do would have the slightest effect…”

He describes in detail the situation of this concentration camp, which was stripping people of their humanity, leaving them hopeless. Imagine, being at this camp, waiting to die. Do you suppose there was any sense of what was to come? The situation there was, quite frankly, “hell on earth.” Hell meaning something void of love, peace, hope beauty or meaning. Hell meaning not a part of the will and desire of God.  A place without hope, in need of restoration.

The Lieutenant Colonel goes on to continue his story about something amazing that happens;

“It was shortly after the British Red Cross arrive, though it may have no connection, that a very large quantity of lipstick arrived [note: they did not ask for lipstick]. This was not at all what we wanted, we were screaming for hundreds and thousands of other things, and I don’t know who asked for lipstick [perhaps things like food, water, etc.]. I wish so much that I could discover who did it, it was the action of genius, sheer unadulterated brilliance. I believe nothing did more for these internees than the lipstick. Women lay in bed with no sheets, and no nightie but with scarlet red lips, you saw them wandering about with nothing but a blanket over their shoulders, but with scarlet red lips. I saw a woman dead on the postmortem table and clutched in her hand was a piece of lipstick. At last someone had dome something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”

While Jesus doesn’t exactly show up in a manger with lipstick, this story is one of the restoration of hope. Hope comes to these people in one of the most unexpected ways: through lipstick. Hope comes to us through a babe wrapped in cloth laying in a manger. Though the gift of lipstick, women, stripped of their hope, beauty, love, and future are given a small bit of hope back through the gift of lipstick. May we, also, find hope in the most unexpected of places this advent season, whether that be a babe in a manger, lipstick, or even just a warm friendly smile. May it be so. Amen.