Romans 15:4-13 St Luke 21:25-33
Whatever was written in former days, was written for our instruction; that through endurance, and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. [Romans 15:4]
Advent is a season of hope – the hope rekindled as we remember that God has come to us in the flesh as a child to save us, the hope of Jesus' Second Coming in glory, and the hope that Jesus will come to us even now.
What a wonderful time to officially start this new church! We have such hopes for it, hopes grounded in the Word of God written and made visible in the Sacraments! If you are just a visitor today, thank you for being here today to share our joy!
Today our Bible readings speak about our hope.
What undermines our hope?
Joseph Pieper, a 20th century theologian, says, “one of the basic concepts of every Christian rule of life” is that we are “on the way” from being nothing towards becoming, we are pilgrims on a journey. [Essays on Faith, Hope and Love, p. 91] To be “on the way” as a Christian is not to despair of our existence and turn back towards the nothingness out which we have come to be [creatio ex nihilo] (which is what we turn towards when we turn to sin). We are not going back, but to be “on the way” is also not it to be certain that we have fulfillment already. Either forgetting we are “on the way” or thinking “we’ve made it” will undermine hope.
We have a young daughter – Eva – who has just started on the way! As with every child, she has a certain needs – food, warmth, to be held, to be safe – and as parents we don’t want to disappoint her or discourage her. We seek to meet her needs, which leads her to hope for it in future. And her hopes will become more complex all the time as she grows in strength and power. One of our tasks is to challenge her to a little beyond what she can do at present, and when she can attain that, to open up new opportunities for her, and when she has attained them, to show her even more. She will learn that she is only on the way to becoming. We will help her to hope for more. And if we are doing our part as Christian parents, we will also show her, as she is ready, that there is a limit to earthly hopes, and lead her to rest her hope also in God and His heavenly promises.
God is like an attentive parent, but on a whole other level of attentiveness. God would expand moment by moment opportunities for us – if we are listening and attentive – and what God promises us are beyond our natural hopes – our job, our vocation, our wealth, our home, even our earthly loves and family, even our health. God gives us a supernatural hope rooted in Him – that make us see ourselves as on the way to glory.
Supernatural hope is a gift from God that ennobles our nature, and enables it by grace to become more than we can be by nature. With supernatural hope we look for real change in our very being – a real transformation into the very likeness of Jesus Christ, that is, into the full image and likeness of God, indwelt and filled to the fullness with God – that is the hope of glory.
And that hope moves us to seek the grace from God that makes that growth and deification possible.
How do we get that hope?
Supernatural hope is a gift from above but it comes to us, is stirred up in us, in a simple way…
St Paul says in this morning’s reading:
Whatever was written in former days, was written for our instruction; that through endurance, and encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope.
How does the discipline of reading the Bible work?
In one way, it is simply to be reminded of our true end: the hope glory, the hope of resurrection to eternal life, the hope of the restoration of all creation – a new heaven and new earth – that the Bible points to. We need these reminders, continually, through the ups and downs of our daily living – especially in a secular world where people look only to natural ends. The Bible reminds us to anchor ourselves in that which is most sure, in that which remains, which is eternal – God.
In a second way, when we read the Word of God written outwardly, it judges us, but not to lead us to despair, but to bring us healing and wholeness so we can continue on the pilgrimage. The Son of God has come into the world not to condemn it but to save it. Reading it renews our hope because it brings judgement and forgiveness through Jesus Christ – who reconciles us to God.
The inward looking, the close scrutiny of our actions necessary for us to change, becomes something welcomed because we know we are walking the pilgimage continually under the Mercy of God.
We read the Bible as a discipline and sometimes nothing seems to come out of it, then, all of sudden – the wind blows where it wills – the Holy Spirit moving within – awakens us to powerful words that stir us up, our hope is renewed, we can continue on the way.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us that God also speaks to us in the creation itself. It is a sign of spiritual maturity to begin to see God speaking to us through the creation.
In Psalm 19, the Psalmist says, The heavens declare the glory of God : and the firmament shows his handywork [the sky, the earth] …There is neither speech nor language : but their voices are heard among them. Their sound has gone out into all lands : and their words into the ends of the earth.
And it tells us not only something of God’s laws in nature, not only something of his beauty and imagination and goodness, but it also prophesizes. As there was the star over Bethlehem at the birth of Christ, so there will be signs in the heavens at Christ’s second coming…
There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
It is a frightening vision of the end of times. The Bible teaches, and so the Church has always taught, that Christ will return to judge the earth. In the Nicene Creed we will soon sing, And he will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. Many other ages have wondered if it was their time. Many wonder if it is in our time. Whether it is in our time or in a thousand years from now, only the Father knows – but we are told, strangely, to hope for it, to pray for it, and to be ready for it!
Jesus says we can actually look to this judgement in hope, in the same way we are to gladly receive the judgement that comes to us now when we read His Word written. He tells us in that moment of perplexity, to Straighten up and raise (our) heads! We are not to walk around cowering in fear or despair. No matter how bad things appear here in our midst, a greater world is being prepared, “straighten up and raise your heads, because your Redemption is drawing near.” That is the hope, that is the confidence we are to have through our faith in Jesus Christ.
But there is also another way to read today’s Gospel, to relate it not only to end times, but to the present – for us right now. Jesus comes to us now. When our worldly ways of thinking, our worldly hopes, that each of us cling to excessively, fail us, in that very moment, we are to straighten up, and raise our heads, and look to the eternal and heavenly hopes which Jesus shows us – the hope of glory.
Do you see how in that very moment of transferring our hope from the worldly to the eternal our redemption is now nearer than the moment before? Because now we’re looking in the right place! And there will be a reply. (If you as parents know how to give good gifts, how much more, Jesus says, will you heavenly Father give to those who ask! Will it be the restoration of the worldly hope we had? Maybe, but, if not, it is because of the offer of something even better.
There is another way Jesus promises to come to us even now…
Jesus promises this evening to come to us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. He says, Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. [Jn 6:53-58]
Let us now prepare ourselves to receive together, for the first time in this new congregation, the Word made flesh, confessing our despair and bringing to Jesus our disappointment and sorrow and He will renew our hope. As each one of us comes back from the altar rail after Holy Communion let us straighten up and raise our heads, knowing our Redeemer has drawn near, even into our heart, and, if we are observant, we will see, into the heart of our neighbour.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2