Let us pause for a moment and create a space in our hearts and minds to give thanks for the blessing of God’s presence…
And so we pray…
God of hope,
enter into our memory and remind us
of the yearning of the people of history.
Stir up stories of how the ancestors hung onto your promises,
how they stole hope from tiny glimmers about you,
passed on from age to age.
Help us to hear the loud, crying voices of the prophets
who proclaimed that a new age would dawn.
…God of hope, be the Morning Star in our midst,
the Light that can never go out,
the Beacon of Hope guiding our way to you.
Come into our midst and make of our lives a home,
where your everlasting goodness resonates
with assuring love and vigorous hope. Amen
(Joyce Rupp, Out of the Ordinary, p. 24, adapted)
Today is also the first Sunday in the season of Advent. Advent gives us an opportunity, a reason, to be reflective and to watch for signs of God’s presence in our lives and in our world. The word, “advent” literally means “coming”. It is the time of year when we anticipate the coming of God’s love in the world in the life of Jesus Christ.
On this first day of the church’s New Year it is significant that the first words from sacred scripture that we hear are from the prophet, Isaiah. The commentary, Feasting on the Word, describes today’s reading from Isaiah in dramatic terms:
“The curtain rises. A prophet walks onto the darkened stage in a circle of light. He begins to sing – of a mountain, and of nations streaming to it willing to hear holy instruction and be judged by it, willing also to make peace with each other. As the song is ending, another sound rises, the ringing sound of hammers striking metal…[as] the image [and sound] of swords and spears beaten into ploughshares and pruning hooks [fills the hearts and minds of the people].” (Year A, Volume 1, page 3)
Advent is a time for looking back at the wisdom of people of faith that were ancestors in Jesus’ faith tradition and also looking back to see how early Christian communities experienced and drew hope from Jesus’ life and ministry.
Like the first generations of Jesus’ followers, it is important that we, as a contemporary Christian community, reflect on the lessons of the past revealed to us through sacred scripture and through the wisdom of our own experiences. It is also important that we look forward to discern what God is calling us to be, and do, in our own time and place.
Advent is also, and perhaps most importantly, a time for living fully in the present. It is a time for being watchful and observant about the many ways God is present and active in our lives. It is a time of hopeful waiting, of anticipation and preparation, of making room in our hearts and in our lives for change, for growth, for the possibility of miracles.
During Advent, we are encouraged to “prepare the way” and open our hearts to the miracle of God’s love manifest in our lives and in our world. It is a time of watchfulness for signs of God’s presence and blessing. Advent is a time when we prepare our hearts to receive the blessing of Christ and to rededicate our own lives and gifts in his name. The hope and promise are that God is always present and that Christ came, and is with us still, as a tangible sign of God’s love and presence. This is the stubborn and persistent hope that has inspired and sustained Christians throughout the ages.
The traditional themes for the four Sundays in Advent; Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, give us some focal points on our Advent journey. When we listen to wisdom from sacred scripture, and from our own lives, with these themes in mind, we get glimpses of God’s yearning for the world. This yearning, I believe, is for us to embody these ideals in our lives and for our actions to reflect the faith we profess.
In my reading and personal reflection this week I kept Advent One’s theme of “Hope” in mind and I rediscovered that in her book, There Is A Season, Betty Radford Turcott says this about finding hope in the midst of the Advent season:
“Hope hides in the corners of our lives, quietly waiting to be discovered. We find it in the open trust of a child. It is present in the gentle caress of a couple in love. It is present in the wonderful wisdom of the old and wise ones among us. Each time we pause to look at the first star, a sunset, a new moon, a twinkling snowflake, we touch hope. Every time someone turns away from anger and embraces forgiveness, hope is reborn. …In this time of waiting and preparation, the whispers of hope, like the voice of an angel, gently surround us and wait for us to welcome them and respond to them with loving action.” (pgs. 28-29)
The writers of the book of Isaiah knew all about stubborn and persistent hope. Isaiah contains stories of faith which span the course of 500 years. During these years the Isaian community experienced oppression, exile, a difficult homecoming and the rebuilding of their homeland. Consistent throughout the Isaian literature is their faith that God was always with them and the hope that God’s reign of peace and justice would be known throughout the world.
The courageous words of encouragement, that we heard from Isaiah this morning, “Come let us walk in the light of God!”, are a reminder to us that even when the odds are great there is hope because God is with us in life, in death, in life beyond death.
I’ll close with a Prayer of Thanksgiving for this Advent Season:
O Shining Light, we give thanks for the light of this day,
for the light of eternal love, for the light of the journey
to justice and peace, and for the light of your grace in our lives.
Shine through us, we pray, that the light of your love and peace
may spread throughout the world. Amen