Advent: Light the Candle of Hope – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, December 2

 Preachers are sometimes asked to perform weddings in the most unusual of places. One year, I was asked to perform an outdoor wedding on a golf course. The ceremony was held just off the right side of the tee box of the tenth hole.

     Knowing that a wicked slice was a real possibility, I warned the bridal party that they were in the line of fire.  I told them that if they heard someone yell, “fore,” during the ceremony, they should immediately take cover. We even practiced this during the rehearsal. Thankfully, there were no shanks off the tee box during the service.

     My wedding sermon that day was based on a golf theme, as you might expect. It wasn’t the best sermon I’ve preached but I would say it was at least par for the course.

    The tenth hole where the wedding took place is known as the beginning of the back nine. It’s the half way point in a round of golf.

     If you have a lousy score on the first nine holes, the back nine is where you can experience redemption. The tenth hole represents a fresh start. It represents hope and a new beginning. And this was my wedding message to the bride and groom that day.

     I told them that with God, there is always a new beginning. There is always hope for better times. Life can get really challenging. Situations can be challenging. Family and marriage can be challenging. But with God, there is always a back nine that can make all the difference in the world.

     I know of a bunch of people who couldn’t wait to get to the tenth tee. They were the people of Israel who lived eight centuries before the time of Christ.  The spirit of the people was extremely low. Assyrian armies were bent on conquest, and many people were doubting if God would be able to save them. It was a very frustrating and anxious time for the people of God.

     To whom can we go during times like this? That’s a question for us to consider as well, especially on this first Sunday of the Advent Season. Like the people of Israel, we too have our moments of uncertainty and doubt.  We might not come right out and say it, but deep down, this is often our experience as well.

     I was taking the dogs for a walk one afternoon and met a guy who looked to be in his early 30’s. He was alone, checking his phone, and leaning on a wall when he noticed us walking by him. He was curious about the dogs so we stopped so he could pet them and then he asked about their names.

     After a minute or two, he stood back up and I was about to leave when he checked his phone again. He had a big smile on his face this time and he said, “I just received some really good news. The landlord of my apartment who has been giving me a tough time is finally letting me get out of my lease.”

     He went on to tell me how his apartment had mold in it and that it was making him sick which is why he wanted out of the lease. He had another apartment lined up but didn’t know how he was going to pay for two apartments. Now, he was free to go and not be out any extra money.

     I congratulated him and said that God is good. He nodded his head and as we finished our conversation, I said, “God bless you.”

     Just when you think the whole world is against you, God reminds us that there is always hope.

     The Israelites in our Old Testament reading just needed to be reminded that God still cared and that with God, new beginnings are always possible. With God, things can be different.

     The Prophet Isaiah appears on the scene and offers the people an incredible word of hope from God. He reminds the people that God has not forgotten them and he points them to a future that is filled with hope.

     He even paints a picture of this new future. It’s a future in which the people will feel at home again. It’s a future that will include safety and security. It’s a future where God’s Word will be a source of comfort and instruction for all people. It’s a future where war will be no more and we will be able to walk in the light of the Lord together.

     That’s a future that sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it’s true. The hope of our faith is that one day this world will be made new again and part of that hope is that God will make us new again as well. That’s why we spend these four weeks leading up to Christmas.  They are meant to prepare us for God’s promise of hope.

     God kept his promise and it came in the form of a little baby born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Through this baby, God’s promises would be fulfilled. When we hold a baby, we are reminded of the gift of life and of the potential of tomorrow. Someone has said, “The birth of every baby is God’s vote for the future of humanity.” When Jesus was born, a new future was born as well.

     How do we prepare for an event as wonderful as Christ’s birth? Advent is a time for us to turn from our selfish and self-centered ways and serve the needs of others. It’s a time for us to not just go to church but to be the church. What if this Christmas, instead of getting caught up in all of the holiday trappings, we shared God’s hope with others? Now, that would be a Christmas to remember! That would be a Christmas that is keeping it real.

     In keeping with this theme of hope for this first week of Advent, we are invited to do some “fridge journaling” this week. Here’s how this works. Place a notepad somewhere on your refrigerator and when you go to the refrigerator this week, jot down a time when God helped you through something that seemed hopeless at the time. It may be a recent experience or something that happened a long time ago. Just write something down each time you open the door of your refrigerator.

And as you go through the week, think of ways that you can share God’s hope with others. You may want to send a card to somebody who is in the nursing home or write a note of encouragement to a youth who may be struggling or call someone just to reconnect.

You might want to consider coming to our Athens First Saturday outreach gatherings where we share the hope of Christmas with people in our community. Yesterday for our Athens First Saturday outreach, we led an assisted living worship service, went caroling to assisted living and nursing home residents, made blankets for our community and arranged flowers to give to people at the hospital. The more people who attend, the more hope we can share with the people of our community.

One of the strengths of our church is in the many ways that our church is involved in hands on service projects throughout the year that help people to have more hope in their lives.

When the Prophet Isaiah spoke a word of hope to a weary people so long ago, he invited them to “Come, and walk in the light of the Lord!” We too, are called to walk in the light of the Lord this Advent Season.

And as we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, this morning, allow this time to be a new beginning in your life. Give to God your brokenness, your disappointments, your sorrows, and your regrets.

Today is known as the first Sunday of Advent. On the church calendar, this marks the first day of a new year of faith.  It’s a day of new beginnings. It’s kind of like the tenth hole where we get to play the back nine no matter how difficult the front nine may have been.

It’s the beginning of Advent, time to receive and share the hope of Christmas.

Light the Candle of Hope

Discussion Questions

Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44

December 2, 2018

During this Advent season, we will be looking at the symbolism for each of the four Advent candles. The candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. For this first candle, we focus on the importance of receiving hope. When the prophet, Isaiah offered a word of hope to the people of Israel, they were facing a very bleak and challenging time. Into this time of fear, Isaiah tells them that a time is coming when they will feel safe and where war will be no more.

Share a fear or a concern that you have personally about a situation you are facing or about the world in general.

Isaiah’s comforting words point to the future biblical hope of a time when people will live in safety and this world will be made new again. God is faithful and will make all things new!

How does this reminder of God’s faithfulness and that God will make this world new again give you hope in the challenging and fearful situations that you face?

To help us receive the gift of hope, Pastor Robert has invited us to do some “fridge journaling” during these weeks leading up to Christmas. Fridge journaling is when you keep a little note pad next to your refrigerator and every time you need something from the fridge, jot down a way that God helped you through a challenging situation in your life. 

Pray for how God will lead you to share some of your fridge journaling others with those who are in need of hope.