Saying Yes to Advent HOPE

Sermon preached December 2, 2018 – Advent I
By The Rev. Dr. Nina R. Pooley
St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Yarmouth, ME

Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Saying Yes to Advent HOPE

You will see that the plethora of Christmas Fair announcements in the insert have been replaced this week by an Advent offering encouraging our Way of Love practices. This week they invite us to say Say “Yes” to the Journey of Advent.¹ Which, if you are like me, raised some questions initially. Where are we going? When will we get there? I mean, aren’t we there now? It’s Advent, isn’t it? (I can be a difficult student!) Yet, I think this invitation, and the daily practices suggested, are more about having a posture of YES – being willing to participate in Advent openly and willingly.

This is a call to be Advent people, to step out of the raging waters of consumerism, commercialism and fantasy level expectation of the CHRISTMAS chaos of the world around us, and engage in something altogether different. Saying yes to Advent – is to be willing to do something truly counter cultural – to be willing to embrace waiting. As Stanley Hauerwas says, “Advent is patience. It’s how God has made us a people of promise, in a world of impatience.”²

I have this image of Advent people moving more slowly and deliberately, while the rest of the world rushes frantically around them. Perhaps this isn’t the best week to mention that – on the heels of our Christmas fair! Though I have to say that the work all week leading up to the fair was more paced than frantic, and people were having an awful lot of fun enjoying one another’s company, which is part of my point.

Advent is a time to pay attention, and spend time, rather than rush, even to wait a bit, to ponder and watch. Be alert, keep awake! As so many of our Advent texts say, to behold what is most important, and what is coming: what God is doing, and will do in our world.

We wait in HOPE – active and joyful hope – a knowing hope. Yes, even now; particularly now in the midst the hardships of our current reality. That’s the point Jesus is making in the text we hear in Luke’s Gospel. Advent HOPE is hope in the midst of what can feel hopeless.

And hope is not the same thing as optimism, as Henri Nouwen articulates:
Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things – the weather, human relationship, the economy, the political situation,              and so on – will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in              a way that leads us to true freedom.³

Which is why we begin our Advent journey here, in the apocalyptic texts of Luke, reminding us of God’s promises to redeem God’s people. Jesus tells his disciples when they see cataclysmic signs of the end, to stand up and raise their heads because their redemption is drawing near.

As we talked about last week with the book of Daniel, apocalyptic literature is good news, particularly if where you are standing is not a great place. This news reveals the glory of God, as God acts in the world to bring justice and mercy in the world to come. These texts are good news to people who need to hear that what is now is not all there is, that God’s kingdom is more than this. People who need to know of God’s power and mercy – and to see glimpses of what is to come. To remember that God’s kingdom is drawing near, and have HOPE even now, that’s the invitation of Advent.

On Thursday evening in my French class, we were learning how to ask specific questions – and in our in-class exercise, we had to come up with three questions to ask each other. One of mine was: “Tu espères pourquoi? Why do you hope?”

Not elegantly phrased – but a question on my mind at the time! (My professor and I decided I should ask one of my other questions when we went around the classroom!)

When I got home from class, I caught the end of the NBC evening news, with the latest CDC statistics on average life expectancy in this country, which is dropping; due primarily to the increase in deaths by overdose and suicide. (In 2017: there were over 70,000 deaths by overdose, and more deaths by suicide than in the last 50 years). I thought of the young adults in my class at SMCC – working and going to classes, the generation who make up the bulk of those dying far too young.⁴ It’s devastating – and convicting for us as nation. “Why do you hope?” “Where do we find hope, together?”

NBC added a follow up piece in which they circled back to a community addiction treatment program, in Dayton, Ohio, whose story they covered a year ago. In the year since the initial story ran, Lori Erion’s Families of Addicts program has drastically reduced the numbers of deaths by overdose in Dayton, from 548 deaths in 2017, to 258 in 2018. (Statistically that’s 290 people who are alive today who would not be otherwise).

Erion says the keys to their success are: meeting people where they are and increasing their peer support; added to their region taking concrete measures: such as opening more treatment centers, providing Medicare coverage for treatment costs, and making Narcan readily available so fewer lives are lost to overdoses.⁵

This small group of people is making a difference, fighting an epidemic that has most of the country on its knees. This community has figured out a way forward together that provides hope in the face of hopelessness.

I thought these words were particularly appropriate. From the weekly news bulletin of the community of the Crossing, which worships at the Episcopal Cathedral in Boston, and is made up of a lot of young adults:

Hope is the capacity to see a troubled world and still believe there can be a better one. Hope is a skill honed to become part of a catalyst for change. Hope is a desire to bring light into the darkest parts of our lives. Hope is the love that holds that                    light for others when they can’t bear the heaviness of sorrow. Hope is how we acknowledge our endings and look forward to what is beginning.⁶

My Friends, in Advent we wait with hope – but we do so in an active and life-giving way. We may be in this waiting place, but it’s a faithful one, one in which we pay attention, we learn, we love and we lean forward into God’s promises together.

When we say yes to Advent Hope: we say yes to being invested in God’s promises; yes to trusting that God is at work, even now; yes to choosing hope instead of fear; yes to choosing Advent’s faith-filled patience over-commercialized Christmas chaos. We say yes to paying attention: to one another, to what God is doing right now in the world around us, and to looking for what God will do in our future.

Being Advent people of HOPE proclaims the MORE of God to a starving world, infuses our lives with hope which will change things for us and for others. In this moment between all that has been and all that is yet possible, the hope of a few faithful people might just be enough to make a difference for all of us. That’s the hope of Advent. May we say YES. Amen.

[1] [1]
[2] Stanley Hauerwas as quoted in:
[3] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, published in 1997.
[4] NBC Nightly News, November 29, 2018.
[5] NBC Nightly News, November 29, 2018.
[6] Slightly adapted to be read aloud, the Crossing Boston News Bulletin, November 27, 2018