November 29, 2020: First Sunday of Advent – Hope
The First Sunday of Advent – Hope
Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:1-5
- Prelude – “Alman,” by Thomas Morley; “A Toye,” by Giles Farnaby; Terry Reitz, virginal keyboard
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 196 – “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” by Charles Wesley; Janice Parks, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Advent lighting – Alana and Bob Schmicker
- Special music – “In the Bleak Mid-Winter,” arr. by Keith and Kristyn Getty; Janice Parks, vocalist and piano
- Prayer time – Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Special music – “Is Your Heart Prepared for a King,” by Robert Lau; Trinity Singers, 2019
- Scripture reading – Isaiah 9:2 and John 1:1-5; Margaret Cox
- Advent drama – Lou O’Hara, Rick Olson, Gay Lyn and Ken Lillagore
- Sermon – Hope; Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 209 – “Blessed be the God of Israel,” by Michael Perry; Janice Parks, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Sung Benediction – Hymn 206, “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” by Kathleen Thomerson; Janice Parks, hymn leader; Donna Grubbs, piano; Pauline Olsen, organ
- Postlude – “Love Came Down at Christmas,” arr. by Lani Smith
Pauline Olsen, organ
I remember growing up watching Mighty Mouse (“Here he comes to save the day…”), or Superman and his ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound; of Batman and the Whap, Bang, Crunch as he and Robin fought those drastically evil villains. I read about The Green Hornet, The Flash, and yes, even Deputy Dog. Any more, all we need to do is turn on the televisions and we can readily find similar characters from DC and Marvel comics. Each of these heroes faces villains that seem ready to destroy the world. It looks hopeless until, yup, the superhero comes and saves the day. Yet heroes were not always found in comic books. Heroes and hero-worship have been with us throughout history. There was Achilles, King David, Samson, and so many others. Greek mythology is filled with them. The Old Testament is filled with them.
History is filled with them. So, why is it that we are able to find heroes in almost every part of history? Because we need them. We need something greater than ourselves who has the ability to step in and save the day.
And yup, that’s what today is all about. It is about expectations for a hero and those who looked toward the future and offered explanations of how and where that hero would appear, and what that hero would be like.
They were called prophets.
I keep looking around us thinking about these two scriptures. Could there be a more appropriate scripture for today? Look at the first five verses of John’s gospel. For John, the hero who was to come and save humanity (in this case Roman persecution) had been there at the point of creation. The figure was both Word and illuminating Light. Isaiah describes it this way, “The people (in exile) walking in darkness have seen a great light, and for those walking in deep darkness, a light has come.” It begs the question, what was the light, and what was the darkness? This season I would like to explore both. But to get there we have to take a journey; a similar journey to the one taken by those walking before us. I know I keep saying this, but we currently live in a time when normalcy seems fleeting at best.
Thanksgiving celebrations were under the shadow of COVID-19. Christmas shopping has turned inside rather than out. We’ve lived through a Presidential election that was unlike any we’ve experienced, and still is. We keep waiting for answers, a vaccine, a cure, normalcy, and yet, it’s still dark, and hope still seems so far away. Hope is at least part of the light we seek, but there is more. We seek peace. We seek understanding. We seek comfort. We seek wholeness. We seek love. We seek so many things and yet seem to find so few. Yet, as people of faith, we know that God is with us and this journey isn’t one we take alone.
Advent is about all of that. It is a time of journeying together toward light and hope.
Each step brings us that much closer to the realization of our hope. With each step, the darkness becomes a little less dark. But again, to get there, we have to take the journey; one step at a time, through what feels like a forest of fog, and mist, and gloom.
So, on this first Sunday, we begin that journey. Then, over the next few weeks, the light will grow. But we had better be ready, because what it illuminates isn’t at all what was expected. It was about as opposite as it could have been from what was expected. I remember as a young child traveling to Carlsbad Caverns. I have to admit that I’m a bit claustrophobic. Walking into that cave was overwhelming enough, but then the ranger turned off his flashlight. It was the first time I understood that you could literally feel darkness. It envelops you, even penetrates you. We followed a path in what felt like total darkness. The only light was the thin light of his flashlight showing the path. I held tight to the railings that helped guide the way. Then we stopped. He turned off his flashlight. The fear was overwhelming. Then one light turned on, and the outline of where we were began to be revealed. Then another, and another, and another until the whole cave was lit. There were crystals reflecting and refracting the light; stalactites and stalagmites gleaming as though they were Christmas lights.
The colors seemed to jump out at us, and as I looked down, I saw water, and the reflections off of the water made it all the more intense.
It’s what light does, as it grows it becomes that much more illuminating. Things we didn’t see even in the shadows take form and become recognizable.
And like the darkness, I could feel the light; the comfort, the beauty, even the warmth. It was more than visual. It was tangible. I’ve never forgotten and I continue to see the journey of Advent that way.
But this year is still different from any other. Nothing is normal. “Getting back to normal” is a phrase we hear a lot. And as we explore what that means, there is often the overwhelming realization that, like those who struggled long before us, we really are on this journey together. How appropriate that it is in this time of Advent that we’re beginning to see a light in the not so distant future. It offers us hope. This hero’s name sounds like Pfizer, Moderna, or AstraZeneca. This is a season of hope, and the light is growing.
Back then, death surrounded them and hope was fleeting. There were all kinds of rumors about a hero who was to come. What would he be? Would he be a warrior, a suffering servant, or even some combination of all of them? Yet, what God was setting up was what God often sets up, whatever it is will be a surprise that nobody would expect. And at least for now, that’s all we need to know…whatever it is that’s coming won’t be what we expect. What we can count on is that God is there in the midst of it, all of it, and is walking this journey with us toward light. … will you pray with me…