Summary: Where does hope come from and how do we get it when life brings us to the point of hopelessness?
Iliff and Saltillo UM churches
First Sunday of Advent
November 28, 2004
“Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness”
INTRODUCTION: Today is the first Sunday of Advent and our theme is HOPE. What is hope? Emily Dickenson puts it this way:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops--at all.
For too many people today the bird of hope has ceased to sing its song. Too many crises of life have robbed us of our song and of our hope. For many people in Isaiah’s day, the same thing had happened. They had lost their hope at a critical time in history when war and conflict abounded. People’s hearts had turned away from God, and idol worship, superstitions and rebelliousness had taken over. People were indifferent to spiritual truth.
Isaiah came on the scene during war times with a message of hope and the promise of salvation. His message of hope came early in his career between the prosperity of Uzziah and the reforms of Hezekiah. The land is destitute--it has everthing but God.
Let’s see how today’s scripture speaks to us about hope. Speaking during these critical times, Isaiah pointed out several things that helped the people to see that all was not lost. He’s saying to them, “things will not always be this way because
1. The mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established. That was meaningful to them because the term “mountain” referred to the site on which the temple in Jerusalem was built. The significance is that Jerusalem was the center of spiritual worship--the place where God’s presence dwelt. The people in that time could relate to this image of going up to Jerusalem to worship God. Throughout scripture reference is made to mountains. Psalm 68:16 says, “Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the Lord himself will dwell forever.” Even in the New Testament, reference is made to a city on a hill--it cannot be hidden.
2. Jerusalem--the center where God’s presence dwells cannot be hidden. It will be there for all to see. Isaiah is telling them this spiritual center will be established and people will see it and recognize the presence of God so much that people from all nations will come to it--the Jews and the Gentiles alike. This is a prophecy that stretches out over many hundreds of years. He is saying, “You don’t see it now, things look very dark and desolate--but don’t give up hope. A day is coming when the Messiah will come--salvation will be available to all people--Gentiles included. This mountain of the Lord will be so prominent that people will stream to it--they won’t feel coerced or pressured--they will just WANT to come.
3. The reason is to LEARN of God’s ways and then to WALK in them--to make God’s ways their lifestyle. The next thing he said to them was, “and wars and disputes will be settled for many people will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” He is saying their weapons are not going to be used for destruction but things are going to be turned around for good. Things will be used for productiveness--not concentrating on war and hate.”
4. “Nations will not take up swords against nation nor will they train for war anymore.”
I wonder how the people received this message of hope from the prophet Isaiah?
I imagine some people said, “That’ll never happen. He must be dreaming. There has always been war and conflict and fighting. Things will never change...”
Sometimes we refuse to believe any message of hope. We say, “Things will never get better for me. This is the way it has been for a long time. Can’t teach old dogs new tricks. My health will never improve, my job situation will never change, my family will never change. Sometimes when the pressures of life close in on us, “the bird of hope has just about lost his song.”
At this Advent Season, God’s message to us is about hope just as it was for the people in Isaiah’s time. Salvation has come, the presence of God is in our world in spite of war and conflict, His Holy Spirit leads us and guides us day by day even when things seem dark and hopeless--even when we can’t feel a trace of His presence in our lives.
Sometimes people try to manufacture hope during the holidays through the many traditions of the season--loading our houses with colorful lights, trimming the tree, packing our schedules to overflowing with events, including abundant holiday packages under the tree, bountiful feasts on our tables, .... We try to recapture memories of our childhood--to days that were less stressful, when we remembered happier, simpler times, where our families got along better or seemed closer knit. Sometimes all that we do to manufacture hope fails because it is a false hope.