The Sunday Sermon: First Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019
Scripture: Isaiah 2:2-4
The Sounds of Christmas: Hope
It is Advent. Today, the first Sunday of Advent. During Advent we wait. We wait for the coming of Christ on Christmas day as men and women of the faith have been doing since the fourth century. And …
During Advent, we party! Or maybe a bit more appropriately, but (I hope) no less emphatically, we celebrate – we celebrate the future, the coming of Christ on Christmas Day, but we also celebrate, or we should celebrate, the present. The right now, the realized presence of God on earth that was experienced in Jesus of Nazereth in the first century, was remembered, shared, written down, indoctrinated, celebrated and passed on to us in the twenty-first century. We wait for what’s to come even as we celebrate what we have – the Love of God incarnated in Jesus the Christ and entrusted to us, Christs of today. It’s a fascinating season, Advent. And one way or another we should be as fully present as we can possibly be.
For several years here, in one way or another, we have tried to be as “fully present as we can possibly be” by lifting up the “wait,” gearing down as we gathered together in this room for one scant hour every week during the Advent Season. The world around us hustles and bustles from early November through Christmas Eve and we hardly have a chance to remember what it’s all for, or what it’s all supposed to be for. Food, parties, music, and merchandise consume us even as we consume them, and we have very appropriately said “no” to all that for this hour for the past several years. We hung signs at both entrances to this room, “Please enter the Sanctuary in Silence”, we rang the bell “quietly,” and the choir began the service with an introit that encouraged “all the earth to be silent before God.”
We’ll return to that way of engaging Advent, I’m sure. As I mentioned, it is certainly appropriate given the crazy that our commercial Christmas offers us. We’ll return to it, I say, because (in case you have noticed already) we’re leaving it this year! This year, we will try to be “as fully present as we can possibly be” by celebrating not the imminent arrival of God in Jesus, but the realized presence of God in Us. Music as we enter the sanctuary, talking to one another before our Bell “peals” across the Valley and we formally begin, preludes that make us smile, even laugh and tap our toes, and Christmas hymns sung before Christmas Eve! Oh, my …
These are some of the “sounds of Christmas” this year. And in our sermon messages, some more “true sounds” of Christmas: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. All of these sounds only scratch the surface of God’s presence, Christ’s Love, that is already here, but they will serve to remind us that Advent is also a time to celebrate “good news of great joy.” To us is born this day, a Savior, God’s anointed. Unto us a child is born.
Pray with me …
So, this morning on the first Sunday in Advent, we listen to, and for, the sound of Hope.
… the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without words
And never stops at all.
And sweetest in the Gale is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea.
Yet never in extremity
It asked a crumb of me. (Emily Dickinson)
Hope. It costs us nothing. It offers us everything. When unrealized, it occasions a deeper desire for both understanding and change. When realized, it gives us a glimpse of God. But … what does it sound like?
It sounds like your toddler telling you to “Watch this!”
It sounds like your child asking, “When will see Grandma and Grandpa again?”
It sounds like your teenager saying, “I’m going to study engineering at College.”
It sounds like your twenty-something year old son saying, “I’m going to ask her to marry me!”
It sounds like your spouse saying, “We’ll make this house a home.”
It sounds like your doctor saying, “Congratulations, it’s a girl.”
It also sounds like one of your children getting upset because things didn’t turn out the way they planned.
It sounds like a loved one grieving the loss of a childhood friend.
It sounds like your doctor saying, “It’s cancer and we’re going to fight this with all we have.”
It sounds like your aging father saying, “Tomorrow will be a better day, I’m sure of it.”
It sounds like … life if your life is lived as fully as it possibly can be, through the midst of joy and pain, of promises fulfilled and dreams dashed. It also sounds like this … Listen for the Word of God. Read Isaiah 2:2-4. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I tried this week, but I couldn’t come up with words that are more full of hope than the opening words of our reading from Isaiah, chapter two: In days to come … At once, it calls forth what was, what is, and what will be. To begin with Isaiah prophecies, without question or concern, that there will be days to come. More than any other words in these verses, these words offer ultimate hope. No matter what you are feeling or dealing with, no matter what your child, your teenager, your spouse, parent, or doctor may “say,” in days to come perches in our soul and sings the tune of hope.
With those words, we begin to understand that the time we have on this earth, the time together with loved ones and family, with neighbors and our church community, is not simply our own. We live fully when we understand that there will be “days to come.” Days for which we must prepare ourselves, our children, and all those who will come after us. It is a call to social justice, environmental responsibility, and personal commitment to those days to come. This is what Hope sounds like
The final verses are among the most familiar from Isaiah. They share one of the most profound “sounds of hope” found in any faith: swords shall be beaten into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. Weapons of destruction will be “beaten” into tools of production. Swords will no longer threaten and war itself will cease. This is the sound of hope in a comprehensive sense. We should take verse four literally, I believe. Swords and guns and bombs and, used three thousand years ago and used still today, weapons designed to kill and maim will be replaced by tools meant for the mutual benefit of all humankind. The time will come when the people of this world will stop harming, hurting, and killing each other in wars fought for any reason. I think these words loose much of their power if we think of them only as “metaphorical or allegorical.”
But we should also hear these words of hope as an metaphor for our own lives. What are the swords and spears in your life, used to hurt and cut down those you may disagree with or dislike. Where are you “warring” with the world, your country or part of it, or with your neighbor, or yourself? In days to come those swords and spears, those wars will cease. In fact, we may argue that this is where it must all begin – one person at a time, one small act at a time. A personal refusal to respond to hate with hate, or anger with anger, or pain with pain. Instead, we must meet all the pessimism, all the hurt, and all the hatred of this world with a Love that makes them all meaningless and removes any power they otherwise have on us.
And here’s the thing, our whole focus this Advent season: Even as we wait for that, for all of this, in days to come, it has come already! Jesus of Nazareth hung the hatred – the weapons and wars of his world – on a cross and robbed them, and anyone who would use them, of the power they were given. The days to come, came. And the days to come are here now – in you and me. When … we dare to Hope and hang the hatred of the world in a place where it is revealed for what it is – useless and pointless
How beautiful that we have set before us one of, if not the, most powerful expression of hope that our faith has to offer. Or table of Communion. Around this table we hear the voices of our children, young and old; our parents at every age; our doctors and preachers, our neighbors and the stranger, too. And at this table we “sound” even more words of Hope: We remember. We remember what we’re waiting for and we join in his life now.
Hope, the first true sound of Christmas. Rejoice, rejoice believers and let your lights appear. Amen.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian / December 1, 2019