Hope… that next year things will be different

Keep awake! Get ready! Prepare yourselves!

These are the words that fly at us from the scriptures on this first Sunday of Advent.

But get ready for what?

Light? Dawn? The son of Man?

Yes. Yes. And Yes.

Get ready for the hope of the world…

Will you pray with me? (adapted from Thom Shuman)

Lord of all:
you are as close to us as the breath in our lungs:
helping us to treat everyone with honor and respect;
healing us with serenity in these days of stress;
taking us by the hand to walk us home to the kingdom.
teach us all we need to know,
if we will but open our hearts, and listen to yours.
Help us to quit working the night shift in sin’s sweat shops,
but to dance in the Light of Advent joy.

How many of you have ever had a bad day? What about a bad week? Or a whole year?

Life is downright tough sometimes. It is unfair. It is cruel. We finally find the job we have been searching for, and then our spouse gets laid off. A misunderstanding destroys a friendship. Natural disasters wipe homes off the map. Children go hungry. And sometimes in the midst of all of the problems that we face in this world… the trials and the tribulations… it feels like God turns his back towards us.

And so, sometimes, in our frustrating times… in the days that seem without hope… we turn our backs on God.

We look for salvation in every place but the right place.

We look for things that will make us feel better – we self medicate with drugs and shopping sprees.

We turn towards the darkness and yell at it for being so dark.

And we continue to feel alone, and empty, and lost.

Have you ever been there? Yelling at the darkness? Do you know how much energy it takes to fight with something like “darkness”?

When I think back on the tough times that I have been through in my life… and as I have listened to folks share their own stories… the thing that finally got them out of the rut, out of that dark place, was that they woke up.

Whether or not the situation changed, they woke up. They started living their lives differently. They took stock of what was really important. They stopped being mad at the dark and started trying to let their own light shine.

It seems contrite to say that there are two ways of looking at world – either as a glass half-full or a glass half-empty… but maybe it really is as simple as that.

Either the world is a place of darkness or it is a place where the light of God dwells…

Either God has abandoned us or God is working out a plan of salvation.

Either Christ’s work is done or soon and very soon the Son of Man is coming…

Can you hear the difference in those statements?

Are we going to live as a people of the light?

Or are we going to let the dark overcome us?

That is our choice.

That is why the prophets and the apostles cry out – Keep Awake! Get Ready! Prepare Yourselves!

Stop living in the darkness, they keep saying: Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Let us put on Christ, let us trim our lamps, lets get ready!

Sounds great… but how?

First to live in the light of hope, we need to stop living in the darkness. We need to let go off everything that bogs us down and drains us. In the words of the apostle Paul: we can’t afford to waste a minute, we must not squander these precious hours of daylight in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed!

I want you to take a minute and think about one thing that you can do differently this Advent season as you prepare for Christmas. What something that you can do that will renew your hope and your faith… instead of depleting your energy and your bank account? Maybe instead of spending all day on Saturday shopping for the perfect present, you will take some time next Saturday morning to have coffee and devotions with someone you have not spent time with lately… Whatever it is – Talk for a moment with someone near you about something you can do to “Wake Up!” this season.

Second: We have to remember that living in hope isn’t something that we have to do alone.

We all know Pollyannas and Susy Sunshines in our lives… people who are perpetually happy and optimistic. And sometimes their hopefulness is a little annoying because it doesn’t seem real, it doesn’t seem possible.

I’m not asking you to go out and look at all of the bad things in the world and pretend that they aren’t there.

Instead, to live in hope, means that we surround ourselves with people who can help us find a way out of the darkness.

When folks have a tough time, one of the first places they turn is the church. And that is because we are known for our love and our generosity. We are known for our compassion. We are known for being a people who let our light shine.

So when you are having a tough time – when you are having a hard time finding hope – then turn to those people around you who can hope for you. I know that we are a bunch of proud, do-it-yourself, hardworking midwesterners… but sometimes you need to be able to say, I need help.  What better place to turn when you have no where else to go than to the people of hope?

And when you are able – you can in turn be hope for others.

We don’t do this very often, but this morning, I want to pass around our special offering basket.

There are a number of people in our community who need an extra bit of help right now.  They need to see a sign of hope that next year can and will be different.

A number of our community funds are low and it is hard to give everyone the kind of assistance they need.  But you can help.  You can remind others that they are not alone this Christmas.  You can be hope for someone through your giving right now, right here.

Lastly, to live in hope, we need to keep God at the center of it all. We need to keep the word and the path in front of us. When we take the time to seek the light of the world– then no darkness that comes will ever be able to put that light out.

I want to invite our children to come back up here and to bring their papers.

We talked about hope and transformation earlier and I asked them to help me out this morning. So they took these white sheets of paper and colored on them with white crayons.

And we wrote HOPE on these pages, didn’t we. We drew things that brought us hope.

We put the HOPE of Christ first… we put God first… so let’s see what happens when dark and cloudy and stormy times come.

(painted the white pages with white crayon with dark water based paint)

*gasp* what happened?

All of that hope keeps shining through, doesn’t it! All of the stuff that we thought was hidden and hard to see is there! And none of this darkness can take that away, can it?

Hope is sometimes hard to see. It is sometimes hard to imagine what a difference it can make in our lives. But I know that it has made a difference in my life… and I want to share with you the story of a young woman in Africa who lives in hope.

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