Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  In the Christian calendar we begin each year with Advent, so I could actually say Happy New Year as well.  And in this upcoming church year most of our gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Mark. 

The word Advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming or arrival.  So advent is a time of waiting and preparation, waiting and getting ready for celebrating Jesus’ coming into our lives.    The season of Advent’s a bit of a paradox really.  Even though Advent means that we await the coming of Christ again, his second coming as it were, God in Christ is still with us.  The Spirit of Christ is with us, and meets us where ever we are, and as we are—in all of our stress, in our family messes, personal issues and life challenges.   Christ’s love is a constant; we are loved, in all our flaws and failings.  That always blows my mind when take a moment and really consider the immensity of that.  Even in my multitude of imperfections–and God knows I have my share, Jesus loves me despite and even in spite of all.  We are loved, and Christ is among us.  Where else but church can you come and hear a message of unconditional love—a love that’s always there, regardless of what you do?  Jesus loves us right here and right now — while we sit here and think and talk about Christ’s second coming.  And strangely hear about the time of his death, which is what Mark is reminding us of in our gospel scripture for today.   Advent really is a funny time of year in the church, isn’t it?  We live in hope for the peace that Christ will bring when he comes again, while living in the joy of Christ’s amazing love.  It’s really cool, when you put it that way, this Christian faith of ours.  We live in hope for the peace that Christ will bring when he comes again, while living in the joy of Christ’s amazing love. 

In each of the four Sundays of Advent we focus on one of those four aspects of our faith –hope, peace, joy and love – and we give prayerful thought to what it means to have Jesus in our lives, and the hope we hold onto for his coming again.  And this, the first Sunday of Advent, is, of course, the Sunday of Hope. Interestingly I heard a therapist being interviewed on CBC this week.[1]  She was talking about the importance of having hope in times of struggle and depression.  She said hope is the greatest therapeutic tool there is.  Interesting indeed, so I got thinking about hope, and just exactly is hope?  Well, I thought, it’s something you can hang your hat on.  After that brilliant analogy, I figured I’d better look it up for proper definition! Hope is a “desire accompanied by expectation of (something); a belief in fulfillment… (It’s) someone or something on which hopes are centered;something desired.[2] Well, that works for Advent, doesn’t it?  Expectation of something and someone’s coming on which our hopes are centered.  Jesus fits that bill to a T!  How very appropriate to start Advent with Hope.  Christians are a people who have hope, who live in hope—even in those times of our lives when we’re maybe not feeling particularly hopeful—like living in the middle of a pandemic! So, just what does it mean for Christians to have hope?

Hope means more than just hanging on.  It is the conscious decision to see the world in a different way than most others see it.  To hope is to look through the eyes of faith to a future not determined by the oppressive circumstances of the present.  To hope is to know that the present reality will not have the last word.  It is to know that God rules.[3]

It is this sense of hope, this urgent desire to know that God really is in charge of the mess that is our world and even our lives at times.  And that is the dominant theme for our scripture readings today.  Our reading from Isaiah was written at the time when the Israelite people returned to Jerusalem after years of exile after the conquest of the Babylonians.   When this was written, the Babylonians had been conquered by the Persians, and the new Persian King Cyrus told the Israelites they could return to their homeland, and many did return.   Well, all is not as they had hoped, life is difficult, there are divisions among the returnees and those who were not exiled, restoring Jerusalem to its former glory wasn’t going to happen the way they hoped or wanted, and not any time soon either. The section from Isaiah we heard is the people’s lament, they cry out to God:  ‘Where are you in all this mess, why don’t you come down among us Lord, make the mountains quake, the nations tremble,  make your name known among our enemies.  Yes, we know we’ve done wrong, sinned against you, it seems you’ve hidden yourself from us, but you are our parent, our creator, don’t abandon us, be merciful.    Where are you in all this mess God?’

 Wow, what a great prayer for then and now! “Where are you God?   I’m overwhelmed with all this Covid stuff, I’m afraid of getting sick, I miss my old life, I’m worried and depressed. God, are you there?”  It’s a perfectly legitimate way to pray, and a good time to pray.  When we ask God to come in to our lives, that’s when we’re open to the Holy Spirit to come into our lives, we surrender our will to God, that’s when we make room for the Lord. The Lord waits for the invitation from us, God will come to us, God is just waiting for the opportunity.   Come, Lord Jesus, Come.  Hmm, now that’s sounding like an advent message!

And our gospel scripture from Mark; now, there’s another message of turmoil and really tough times—the destruction of the beautiful temple of Jerusalem is foretold, times of persecution are coming, the sun will be darkened, the stars will fall from the sky  and even the powers of heavens will be shaken.   This is an example of apocalyptic, or the end of the world style of writing.   And many of these things did happen.  Jerusalem fell by the year 70.  The temple was destroyed.  It’s as though Jesus is giving his apostles an fyi; a warning not to be too taken in by the man-made magnificence, that much in the world is but temporary.  But even in this turmoil, Jesus tells them that the Son of Man will appear, coming with great power and glory.  (v. 26) So, be watchful!  And he provides a couple of examples. 

The illustration of the fig tree leafing out is a one we Canadians can really identify with!  We’ve just spent hours cleaning up the fallen leaves, but we can’t wait for spring when the trees to come out in full leaf again, because then we know the warmth of summer is upon us.  A deciduous tree in winter is like those times in our lives when we’re feeling lifeless, or despondent. In the warmth and care of Christ’s love, we too begin to grow again, leaf out, as it were, and blossom and produce fruit for God.  A tree in winter, while it may look drab and lifeless, but it’s full of potential and hope for the future.  

Another example Jesus gave:  be watchful like the servants of the man who’s gone away and doesn’t know when the master of the house will return.  We believe, we desire, we expect, our hopes are centered on Christ’s coming again.  When? We don’t know, anymore than those first century Christians knew.  So we wait, in hope.  And in the meantime, we can be watchful for all the ways Christ is in our midst, now in our messed up present.  We can see Christ’s presence often in unexpected and small ways; in the love of a family member or a friend, in the beauty of nature, a caring phone call out of the blue, a card in the mail, a gesture of kindness from a stranger.  I read somewhere recently, and I wish I had written it down properly, but it went something like this, if you are having troubling finding God in the world, look to the people that are doing God’s work, and you’ll see God.  Where else do we find God?  

We find God in prayer.  While you’re stuck at home this Advent, in the not so great weather, take some time to pray.  First thing in the morning, or just before bedtime works well.  I know some people find it hard to pray.  The daily prayer books are a nice way to start.  And I found a resource for Daily Prayers for Advent on-line and put it together in a handy 2 page hand-out. I hope you find it helpful. 

Prayer touches us at the soul-level, bringing us closer to God, re-igniting our connection to our Creator, and fills us with hope.  Remember:  “To hope is to look through the eyes of faith to a future not determined by the oppressive circumstances of the present.  To hope is to know that the present reality will not have the last word.  It is to know that God rules.”[4]   Amen


[1] CBC Radio morning show, Monday Nov. 22/20

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

[3] Jim Wallis, (editor of Sojourners) as quoted in:  Preparing and Celebrating:  Biblical Background Information Sheet for Advent 1 Yr B

           November 30, 2014 3-1: We Prepare in Hope.  from:   www. wholepeopleofgod.com

[4] Ibid