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Dec 4 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

First Sunday of Advent: Hope – 12/03/2023



Welcome and Prayer: Jim Calhoun


I’m an optimist
I’m inclined to believe it is all going to be okay.
It isn’t like I am endlessly happy.
I know disappointment, tragedy, loss
I know betrayal, broken relationships
I know insecurity, uncertainty and fear.
I am worn down and worn out by the normal experiences of life.
I am worn down and worn out by difficult relationships and the stories of my friends and their difficult relationships.
I am worn down and worn out thinking about the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza and the endless war of words in our country.
I grieve, I weep, I lose sleep.
But being an optimist I let these things run their course, have a good meal, get some sleep, and in time I am back to the sense that everything will be okay.
Maybe in a short time.
Maybe after a longer time.
That is my set point.
Optimism is not a virtue,
Optimism is a psychological trait.
It probably has a genetic element.
It isn’t anything to brag about.

Christian hope is different
Christian hope is rooted in our understanding of who God is and what God intends for us.
Christian hope is available to all despite our psychological traits.
It is available to optimists and pessimists alike.
In advent we celebrate the coming and the coming again of Jesus. It is our hope.
But what do we hope for?
My favorite part of the Christmas story is the angels proclaiming “Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth, goodwill to humankind.”
Christian hope is the notion that God will make all things right. True, good and beautiful
That all shall be well.
We have old theological words that capture the flavor of this hope. Salvation, redemption, transformation, the forgiveness of sin, holiness, and sanctification to name a few. All of these point to hope that I will be better person less inclined to hurt others with my ignorance, arrogance, fearfulness, resentments or selfishness. They all point to a world where these qualities are tamed and replaced for each of us.
My favorite theological term for this is shalom. A Hebrew word meaning peace. But more than peace. More like wholeness. Over time we become increasingly whole and so we bring greater wholeness to others as well.
It works like this, God brings wholeness to us in the form of loving us. In time we, bit by bit, become more whole. Less hurtful.
Less self-absorbed. Lest toxic. And we bring this into our communities to our families and to our neighbors. This is the way we are part of the coming of Jesus and the coming again.

Let’s pray;
Come Lord and join us here today.
Fill our hearts with a longing for wholeness.
And cause us to be your instruments of peace and hope in our circles with our families, our neighbors and in our communities.
Thank you

Morning Message: chuck smith, jr.

Intro: A few months ago, my grandson Calum began telling me what he wanted for Christmas

Do you remember when it took forever for Christmas to get here?
– now it’s like, “Is it that time again already?”
• I used to be amused by people who left Christmas lights up all year
• now I get it – they’re not lazy, they’re just old
– we’re about to complete another lap around the sun
• we pull out the old boxes, look at our bank statement to see what we can afford, and I take us back to the familiar story
◦ of angels and shepherds, mother and child, magic and miracles

This week I began reading through Luke’s Gospel again

So deciding which Christmas story to tell was easy
– it was right there in the episode with Zechariah and Elizabeth
• they are like the Abraham and Sarah of the New Testament
◦ the history of Israel begins with that old, childless couple
• similar to them, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were also old and childless
◦ and the history of the Christian church begins with them
– being a priest, it was Zechariah’s turn to light incense in temple
• Matthew and Luke are only writers who tell us the Christmas story
◦ they each emphasize different details, but both emphasize worship
◦ worship is the only correct way to approach the birth of Jesus
with prayer and praise, with songs of thanksgiving, with lifted hands or bent knees
• Elizabeth’s neighbors and friends came to celebrate the birth of their miracle baby
◦ that’s when she and Zechariah gave him the name John
(John is a translation of the Greek word. The Hebrew name combines two words: the name of God and grace or favor)
◦ at that moment, the old priest became a prophet
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace
Luke 1:68-79

Christmas is God’s answer to a problem

For centuries, Israel had lived as an oppressed people
– now, at long last, God was again “visiting” Israel
• that is, he was coming to redeem them as he had when they were slaves in Egypt
◦ Zechariah’s prophecy celebrates this great event
◦ and he especially celebrates the role his son will play (v. 76)
• John the Baptist would prepare God’s people,
◦ for the arrival of Jesus

Okay, I’ve brought you this far to get to these beautiful verses (vv. 78-79)
– what is at work here is the tender mercy of our God
• what that does is bring the sunrise for which we’ve been waiting
• at last we are given light to find our way
to guide our feet into the path of peace
– the theme for this first Sunday of Advent is hope
• hope arrives with the dawning of a new day
• hope arrives with the coming of Jesus into our world

I did not want to give this talk today

I’m the last person to present myself as an expert on hope
– before Luke, I had read through the Gospel of John
• last Tuesday morning I was feeling hopeless when I began reading John chapter 19

My meditation: “Here in John’s story, from the cross Jesus speaks in short, clipped sentences. I imagine that his intense pain, brutalized body, and dehydration made speech extremely difficult. Now at the end of his mission, with shallow breaths he takes care of the last bit of family business. Seeing his disciple standing beside his mother, Jesus commits Mary to John’s care: ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ and to John he says, ‘Behold, your mother!’
The next words from his lips were, ‘I thirst.’ Then, after a sponge of sour wine was pressed to his lips, John tells, ‘he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit’ (Jn. 19:26-30).
My meditation today is morbid. I wish I could right now say, ‘I’m done,” bow my head, and let go of my life.’ I just don’t have it in me to go on.”

• of course, things got better as the day went on
– then Friday I was here in Luke chapter 1, reading,
“to give light to those who sit in darkness”
and my meditation was: “It is not strange to sit in literal darkness. Safer to sit than to move around, trip and fall. But it is strange for me that I would sit in my psychological darkness. This is something I should want to escape. I should want to turn to an uplifting or joyful activity. But instead, the darkness incapacitates me, death casts its shadow over me, immobilizing me. There is so much that needs to be done, and plenty that I could be doing, but–well, it’s just too dark to do anything. I sometimes push myself to go for a run. However, if I just go for a walk, I tend to take my despair with me.
Jesus is daybreak–always and forever. ‘God is light,’ John says, ‘and in him is no darkness at all’ (1 Jn. 1:5). I choose today to turn toward the light of God in Jesus. I choose to do as Peter instructs us, to ‘pay attention [to the prophetic word] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in [my heart]’ (1 Pe. 1:19).”

Conclusion: Maybe I am the person to talk about hope

Not because I have so much of it,
but because I have to work at it–every day
Hope is critical for me
My mind is often caught in a riptide of despair
and every morning I have to fight my way to the surface
So I know something about hope
I know where to find it

The old priest prophesied that the light would
“guide our feet into the way of peace”
That’s what hope does,
it gets us on our feet and then gets us moving

Hope is Christmas morning
It’s a warm fire in the dead of winter
Hope is the sun
Still rising on the coldest day of the year
We do not journey to its light;
we do not travel east looking for the sun or trying to make it rise
The light of dawn comes to us
Hope is spiritual energy
It’s the smile that comes naturally when we greet a stranger
It’s the feeling that tomorrow is going to be better
It’s the life of Jesus Christ made real to us,
because we are not alone
not forgotten
not unloved

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