First Sunday in Advent: Hope

In just one brief conversation, the Rev. Danni taught me much about hope. Danni
is a second generation Presbyterian- Palestinian Pastor at a Church in Bethlehem. When
Danni was a student in University, like many of his peers, he took part in the first Intifada.
He was beaten, he was arrested, he lost friends, some of whom died right before his eyes.
Yet- even as he talked to us about the current occupation and the awful, ugly wall that
surrounds Bethlehem he said, “Maybe I have the right to hate the Israelis. But God has
taught me how to love my enemy. I don’t hate the Israelis, I love them, I pray for them, I
have Israeli friends, and my dream, like other Palestinian leaders here, is to live in peace
with Israelis.” Despite all the challenges that Danni has had to endure he still prays and
hopes for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. I was amazed with each of the
Palestinians we met in that they all had hope. Hope in a future that would be drastically
different then the present they were living in. They hoped that the world would wake up to
their cries and work with them, rather than against them, in establishing peace in the Holy

Hope is of course our advent theme this morning. But hope for what? In Mark we
hear what is often referred to as “the Little Apocalypse” by scholars. It is the most
straightforward report by Jesus about the last days. And yet, it sounds pretty hopeless.
First of all, Jesus says that the sun will darken, the stars will fall from the sky, the powers
in heaven will be shaken. He later follows that up with a parable about staying awake. I
don’t feel a whole lotta hope in this passage. And quite frankly the Isaiah passage isn’t
much help either with all its talk of quaking in God’s presence, fading away like the
sinners we are and the anger of God. So why on earth are these the passages for the first
Sunday in Advent with it’s theme of hope?

The Isaiah passage is a very startling passage with which to start advent. Yet, the
rending of the heavens is exactly what we seek at this time of year. In Advent, we recall
heavenly visitations of the past and anticipate the final visit yet to come. However, even
though Isaiah is a prophetic book, this passage is much more of a lament psalm. And the
lament comes in two ways. First, humanity’s failure to do what is right, and second feeling abandoned by God and the two are most definitely related. This psalm was likely written
and used during the exilic period- when the Israelites were living in a foreign land and they
asked God-where are you? Why do you harden our hearts against you? Will you continue
to be silent? This passage is asking us to explore the dark side of Advent- a communal
lament explored through waiting and wondering, where is God? Or perhaps more
precisely, where is God when we, humanity, make a mess of things?

This passage is lamenting this waiting- but also encourages the people to look
back and look ahead. Look back at what God has done in the past as proof that God will do
wondrous things in the future. You just have to be a little more patient and wait. Yet, that
too, waiting and wondering where God is, is a faithful response to God. I also appreciate
that this passage ends- not with an answer but a statement. It says, “Now consider, we are
are all your people.” Drawing back upon the hope that Rev. Danni taught me- I am
reminded that this isn’t about who is in and who is out but that we are all God’s people.
Hate has no place in hope.

The Mark passage is a little less clear- in part because it is easily broken into two
parts. First we have Jesus using prophetic language. It is filled with apocalyptic images
and is concerned with the coming of the Son of Man. These verses reflect language,
images, and ideas from Old Testament prophecy- particularly Daniel, a rather apocalyptic
book. But what makes it different, and hopeful, is that Jesus alludes that he is the Son of
Man. And that Son of Man, suffered, died, and was raised and it is he who will exercise
divine judgment. Despite the fact this Sunday is the start of a new church year, this
passage ties in beautifully with the passage from Matthew that we heard last week. At the
heart of these verses is the declaration that God, a God of love, will have final say over
the destiny of creation- including the sun and moon and stars-and Jesus will play a central
role in this promised judgment. Oddly enough, viewed that way, this passage should instill
us with more hope than fear. Jesus, the one who lived like us, knows what it is like to be
human, the one who died for us, is the one who judges us.

It is the last part that draws me back to this idea of hope and what it is we are
hoping for. We are hoping for a better future. Perhaps right now that is a future with a
vaccine. For my Palestinian friends it is a hope in a peace filled future. But waiting in hope
is not passive. Jesus reminds his disciples that, because we do not know the time in which
it will come we are to act like the servants of a grand home in which the Master’s return is
unknown. We should keep awake- keep busy- working toward that future we hope for. The
kids these days use the term “woke” (and honestly if I know about it, it means the kids
these days have moved on from using the term woke). But to be woke means to be
attentive or alert to the issues of social justice, often in reference to racial injustice. We need to wake up to the fact that hope for the future means living the future we hope for.
Music is a big part of my life, period. You all know that. Music is a very big part
of my advent and Christmas celebrations. One of my favourite Advent carols is “People in
darkness”. It might be new to some of you, although I do try to sneak it into a service each
year. The hymn was written and composed by the Rev. Dr. Dosia Carlson, who had hopes
of becoming a missionary in China but a bout with polio shattered that hope and resulted
in her being differently abled. But this change in her hoped for future did not deter her.
She was ordained and earned a doctorate in religion and counselling. She is the founder of
the Beatitudes Center a Christian retirement and assisted living facility in Arizona. Dosia
celebrated her 90th birthday this year. We are going to sing this hymn later on, think about
Dosia’s story and how she truly knows what it was like to be dealing with darkness,
sickness and trouble- yet she knew how to have hope and wait for the coming of Christ.
While we wait for Christmas we need to remember that Christ came into this world as a
brown-skinned Palestinian Jew, born to refugee parents. Yet, he preached a message of
hope that was bigger and grander than anyone could have imagined. Let’s wake up and live
the future we hope for. Amen