Dec. 3, 2017 Sermon
Leap of Hope and Faith
Once upon a time, long time ago and in a faraway land, there were men whose job was to study the stars and discern signs; we call these people astrologers. One day, some of these men spotted a star unlike any other. It must be telling some extraordinary story! It must be an extraordinary sign! We don’t know what it is, but it has to be something big! So convinced of the special nature of this star, they decided to pack up and follow that star. They needed to know what it was about. They didn’t know what they would encounter on the way or at the end of the journey; but they had to know. They packed sustenance and some precious gifts, because you never know what you might encounter going through strange lands; you might need to bribe your way out. Probably when they read the star, they were convinced that it was a sign of royalty being born, a promised king. Still, they did not know what to expect from this journey; they were not Jewish, so they could not have known about the prophecy concerning David’s descendant. They left on a journey not knowing how long it would take or what they would encounter in the end.
The story of the wise men from the east is a perfect example of the Christian hope that we celebrate on the first Sunday of Advent. In the Christian context, hope is closely related to faith. In Hebrew 11:1, it says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” “Conviction of things not seen” is the essence of faith and Christian hope. Hope and faith are both based on not knowing; not being able to see what’s coming. William Sloane Coffin, minister of Riverside Church in New York City expresses this principle in a different way. “I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.” We leap without knowing if the wings will come along to protect us. This is faith, and hope comes from faith. Faith is about trusting God for the unknown. The wise men left on a journey without knowing what it might entail. They just left with the conviction that the star will lead them to a very special king; that’s all they had.
Today’s gospel text tells of a spectacular scene of the Second Coming. You might have noticed that this scene in Mark is similar to the scene described in Isaiah. This is the imagery that was familiar to the Jews during Jesus’s time from many writings. Is this really how Jesus will come back? Literally? Remember that this imagery is not important to us. What is important to us is Jesus’s teaching that follows; concerning nobody knowing the time. We are like the men who know that their master is coming but don’t know when. Just as these men would try to be vigilant and work hard all the time, because you never know when the master will come, our lives should be a constant preparation period. Today’s gospel lesson is that we should live in such a way that it doesn’t matter when we will be called by God to come home. Remember last Sunday’s gospel lesson? The heavenly king and judge judged his people according to how they treated those who are considered the least important in their society. For us followers of Jesus, living in such a way that it doesn’t matter when God calls us home means, we make it our lifestyle to be humble and treat the marginalized members of our society as our own family.
Let’s pause for a moment and think of the gospel text we read today. Doesn’t it sound like an elementary school teacher saying to his or her young students, “I have to go to the office and take care of some business, you’d better behave and work on your worksheet while I’m away. When I come back and find you making noise or being naughty, I will punish you”? To me, it sounds like that. But this is not why we should be following Jesus. We follow Jesus because we have accepted God’s unconditional love for us and joined the kingdom. Our good deeds, loving and serving one another in this kingdom is a response to God’s unconditional love, not a prerequisite to entering the kingdom. Being humble, serving and loving each other is a kingdom lifestyle, not a law that we should obey, “or else…”
Good News is not good news at all if it’s not good news for all. That’s what the kingdom of God is about; all God’s people working together to make our world a good place for all of us, not just some of us. The hope of Advent and Christmas, the hope of the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the hope of proclaiming a world ruled by God’s principle of justice. The hope for the star gazing wise men was based on the conviction of their star reading, and the action they took was to pack up and leave on a long journey without knowing what to expect. They took that leap of faith and hope. The hope for us the kingdom citizens is based on knowing God’s will for love and justice, and on seeing God’s reign of justice come true in our world. It’s called hope because besides the vague knowledge that it’s a world where no one will be oppressed and marginalized, we don’t know what to expect; what the reign of God would look like, and how to make that happen. We take a leap of faith and hope by joining in this work; the work of bringing relief to the oppressed and the suffering, proclaiming God’s will for justice. We take a leap, trusting that we will grow wings.
We have just started this Season of Advent, and the waiting begins. We wait for Baby Jesus to be born so God can proclaim the reign of justice through him. We wait for the conversion of our hearts. We wait for the Holy Spirit to guide our way in living the kingdom lifestyle. We wait for our ministry of love and justice to bear fruit. Considering that we are nowhere near this ideal, we need a leap of faith and hope, trusting that our good works are not in vain, that it will contribute to building a world where fewer and fewer will suffer under an unjust system, that more and more people will spread the message of love, and that we are getting closer to bringing God’s reign on earth one step, one good deed, and one day at a time. This is what we are waiting for. We hope that our good works of love and justice will transform lives, including ours. This Advent, let us make a leap of hope, pray, and work for God’s kingdom with faith.
Rev. Sunny Kim