Live Into Hope

December 1, 2019

Series: December 2019

Category: Advent - Hope

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Isaiah 2:2-4

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.  The Lord shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.

Romans 13:11-14

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

 Live Into Hope

Here we are at the first Sunday of Advent.  We have lit our first Advent candle of Hope, and what better way to celebrate hope than this beautiful reading from the prophet Isaiah.  The imagery is so filled with hope – “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  I certainly hope to live in a world one day where that image becomes a reality. 

That makes me wonder, though, what is it that actually turns our hopes into reality?  We can put all our energy into hoping for a world where nations do not learn war anymore, but will our hope alone make it happen?  Likely not.  I find it interesting that this passage from Isaiah is paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In his letter, Paul urges the Romans to wake from their sleep, to live honorably, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Don’t just talk the talk.  Don’t just sit around thinking someone else will live honorably on your behalf.  No … live into the hope of Jesus Christ in every part of your life.  It is when we wake up and do the work of hope that the swords become plowshares and the spears pruning hooks.

I am reminded of the hymn, “Live into Hope.”  It’s lyrics are inspired by one of Jesus’ first moments in ministry, where he entered the synagogue in Nazareth, unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and declared that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and sight to the blind.”  Another inspiring message of hope from Isaiah.  But Jesus did not only read those words.  He then worked tirelessly to make those words a reality.  He lived into the hope of that vision.  And he calls us to live into that vision as well.  Listen to the lyrics of this song –

Live into hope of captives freed,
of sight regained, the end of greed.
The oppressed shall be the first to see
the year of God's own jubilee!

Live into hope! The blind shall see
with insight and with clarity,
removing shades of pride and fear,
a vision of our God brought near.

Live into hope of liberty,
the right to speak, the right to be,
the right to have one's daily bread,
to hear God's word and thus be fed.

 All of these things can happen.  I have hope that they will.  And I know that they will when we make them happen.

I also want to recognize, however, that there are times in our lives when we just can’t “do” anymore.  Times when we are weighed down by grief, or anger, or fear, or anxiety.  Times when we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything to help the blind see or the captives go free, because it is hard enough just to move ourselves through the day.  It is in these times that we cling most to those hopeful words of Paul – “the night is far gone,” he says, “and the day is near.”  It is in these times that the Advent promise of God’s hope is most important.  For in Advent, we celebrate the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.”  We celebrate the hopeful promise that we do not walk through even the most difficult times of our lives alone.  God is with us.

Author Anne Lamott describes the hope of Advent as follows.  “The belief is that enough hope and tenderness will lead to world peace, one mind at a time. All nations will come together in kindness and justice, swords will be beaten into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. This is a little hard to buy with a world stage occupied by so many madmen,” (she wrote this in 2012 … has much changed?) “and so much suffering. But setting aside one's tiny tendency toward cynicism, in the meantime -- in Advent - we wait; and hope appears if we truly desire to see it. Maybe it's in tiny little packets here and there, hidden in the dying winter wildflowers, but we find it where we can, and exactly as it comes to us, while the days grow dark. We remind ourselves that you can only see the stars when it is dark, and the darker it is, the brighter the light breaking through. Advent is about the coming of Emmanuel, and so as the fields outside our windows go to sleep, we stay awake and watch, holding to the belief that God is with us, is close and present, and that we will be healed.”

That is the hopeful promise of Advent.  And yet, as Lamott continues, real life has a way of breaking into that promise.

“I want that belief, (that hope,) and that patience; (I’m sure) I checked the box on the form choosing that. But it has not been forthcoming. I have instead been feeling a little -- what is the psychiatric term? -- cuckoo. My mind has been doing a worry chant, WORRYworryworryworryworryworryworryworryWORRYworryworry …”[i]

Anyone else have this experience?  This is Advent!  We know we should be hopeful!  Emmanuel is coming!  But, there is so much to worry about in our lives and in the world. 

What do we do when it is just too overwhelming?  When we want to cling to God’s hope, but worry takes over?  When we want to live into hope – to do the work to make our hope a reality – but nothing seems to change?  To use the words of Paul, we put on Jesus Christ.  We invite Emmanuel into our lives.  We may begin in the dark, but little by little we will begin to notice God’s light.  For “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”[ii]

 So when we sing, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” this Advent season, may we really mean it.  Let us make room for “God with us” in our lives.  Let us be aware of the moments of hope – even if they may be fleeting – that the Christ Child brings.  Let us wait and watch and work as we live into hope together.

 I want to end with a prayer as we invite Emmanuel to come … to come with hope into our lives.


 [ii] Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, xxiii.