First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019
Waiting in Hope
To remind us all what Advent is about- it isn’t just about putting up lovely decorations or beginning to make our lists of gifts we want to purchase. (As fun as those things are.) Advent is much bigger than that. It has to do with the past, the present and the future. It is a special period (4 weeks) when Christians wait and prepare, but for what?
We wait not only to celebrate the past- when Christ came into the world. But we also wait and prepare for our Savior’s return. We do so not passively but actively, for we wait in hope in God!
The task for us this Advent season then is not just to focus on what all is wrong with the world and with our own lives but to place our hope in Christ; hope that God will restore all things in God’s time.
As an example of waiting in hope (and not in vain) is this story of how these elderly servants of God (Zachariah and Elizabeth) chose to wait. They had been barren and to remind ourselves- for a woman not to have had children, specifically a son, was something seen as sad and negative. The family name and land were passed on from generation to generation. Sons often followed in the profession of their father’s. Sons were seen as the barer of the family blessing that he, in turn, would one day pass on to his children.
Zachariah and Elizabeth, though, had not waited their whole lives in vain. We know from the reading that Zachariah was a priest and had been praying to God not only for the needs of others but for his, as well. We know this because when the angel appears to Zachariah he tells him that God had heard his prayer.
This should give us hope right away- that God hears our prayers. We don’t just say empty phrases to the air when we pray. We pray in hope and assurance that God will work it out in God’s special time and will for us. We pray to a living God who loves us and is actively working things out on our behalf.
So, Zachariah and Elizabeth waited for God to act somehow in their lives by serving God as leaders in their community.
We must do the same- we must wait for God to act in our own lives and in the ways we chose to serve others- our family, our neighbors, our co-workers and even strangers. When you chose to forgive your spouse or your child, you are serving God. When you chose to do the right thing, even when it isn’t expedient or popular, you are serving God. When you chose to love someone you disagree with, you are serving God.
But back to hope- Elizabeth’s and Zachariah’s hope and faith in God did pay off. Despite her bareness and his lack of a child to pass on his name and blessings to- they did not give up hope. They hoped in God and in doing so God not only listened to their prayers but also grants it by allowing them to give birth to someone who would become an important prophet and for-runner of Jesus, the Messiah.
Now, there had already been 400 years of “silence.” Meaning there had not been any prophets speaking for God in 400 years. The fact that an angel comes to tell Zachariah that he will give birth to a son and that his role will be that of a prophet must had indeed surprised him to no end. As a devout Jew and as a priest, he would have understood the significance of a prophet.
We know the consequences of Zacheriah’s unbelief. He is struck mute by the angel. I personally don’t believe that God is in the business of striking us mute but I do know that our belief or disbelief have real consequences.
When we chose not to believe in God we give up on hope. Consequently we become doubtful, fearful, and very focused on ourselves.
I once knew a young woman who left her faith tradition for many years. During those years many bad things happened to her. She lost her way, her faith, and her identity, even. Once she was able to return to God she found herself again and her life began to take shape and meaning. She was reunited with her family and her life changed around.
God does not want us to be hopeless people. God wants us to be people of hope. Because hope is a powerful force and when we act in hope, we do not only save ourselves but we save those around us.
Our mood is lighter. We are happier. We are more generous. We forgive more easily. We desire and work toward the best in others. We want and work for justice for our brothers in sisters who are hurting. Why? Because our hope is not placed on ourselves but on God.
If I placed my hope on myself I would be in trouble, for, I know I fail, all of the time. But when I place my hope in God, I know that anything is possible and good things begin to happen.
May we be a people of hope in the Lord; pointing others to this God of hope. Sharing with others the amazing things that God has done in our lives in order to give others hope. May we be a people of hope now and always. Amen.