Summary: The premise of this sermon is that sometimes there is much more disappointment in our hearts than hope! Advent’s message through the Prophet Isaiah is that hope is hidden deep within us, safe and secure, and is ready to burst forth in renewed life.
Advent II- Hope
It was just this word of hope the people desperately needed to hear--the words that Isaiah wrote about the dry-looking stump with a green shoot growing out of it. The Israelites felt hopeless, in despair. The words Isaiah wrote told of that despairing and proclaimed that the door that opened up to future hope was not completely closed. There may yet be some gate of hope the people could get through.
In ancient Chinese medicine, there is a powerful acupuncture point called "the gate of hope." When a person is despondent, opening up the gate of hope allows one to see a bright and clear future. Chinese acupuncture physicians believe that the healing of the body is connected to the health of the mind and the spirit. The Chinese have never given up that belief, and western physicians now know that there is a great deal of validity to the body, mind and spirit connection. In classical Chinese acupuncture, thin needles are inserted at tiny points on the body. This opens up blocked energy paths or meridians. When a certain meridian is blocked, there is no flow of energy or chi, and the result is that an organ of the body experiences illness. That same blocked energy causes specific emotional and spiritual distress.
When energy is flowing through the gate of hope, it opens the way for a flood of hopefulness to come into the soul. My acupuncture physician once told me that whenever a patient says, "I feel hopeless," she knows instantly what she needs to do. It is as if the patient’s inner spirit cries out for renewed hopefulness. So before she does anything else, she will open up the gate of hope in that person.
The Chinese have known for centuries what modern scientific researchers and behavioral specialists have now proven as truth--that with all hope lost, the will-spirit of life is gone, and a person can actually die. With hope completely gone, there is no life.
Perhaps Isaiah felt that there was no hope and no life when he prophesied about the stump of Jesse. 3,000 citizens of Jerusalem – including King Jehoichin, the queen mother, and the city’s leading officials – had been deported as captives to Babylon. Turmoil continued, and eleven years later, the land of Judah took the final blow. Jerusalem was captured and destroyed after suffering unspeakable hardship at the ruthless hands of the Babylonian army.
It was late in the life and ministry of the aged prophet. Isaiah searched the horizon for some sign of the coming Messiah. Patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, the prophet waited for a divine occurrence that would change the world and change his life. He watched with deep longing for hints of future hope. But the years of waiting grew long, the prophet grew old, and the possibility of giving up hope had, no doubt, crossed his mind. Yet Isaiah continued to watch and wait, all the time proclaiming – more eloquently than any other prophet – the Messianic hope. In lavish poetry, Isaiah wrote of the time when hope would be restored, when wars would be no more, when the unblemished age would begin. He spoke of a world of righteousness. He declared that the people must never give up hope.
But we must know that Isaiah was no superhuman messenger dwelling in a state of religious ecstasy and completely unaware of the tragic reality of his world. We need to know that Isaiah might well have reached the end of his rope, the end of his hope. He might very well have closed his prophetic mind, laid down his responsibility before a seemingly unresponsive God, and said, "Too many years! Too long without a single sign! I have wasted my breath proclaiming this messianic hope that never shows even a glimmer of possibility. I give up! I quit! Get yourselves another prophet who can make you feel better. I’m all out of words, completely out of energy, and utterly out of hope."
But somehow Isaiah’s gate of hope must have opened, because he never quit speaking of the coming messianic hope. He never gave up, even though his prophecy was born of his intense anguish of soul. The prophet fully expected the coming of the Messiah to occur in his own day. How could he have known that the fulfillment of the glorious and hopeful future he longed to see would delay for another seven centuries? Could it be that even the aging prophet who spoke most gloriously of Israel’s hope, at times felt the personal despair of feeling that all hope was gone?
Many people live in utter hopelessness. For multitudes of people, people that you and I see every day, hope is lost! And when one is left without any hope at all, that person is left standing helplessly in a pile of dead dreams. Not a very glorious Advent picture . . .