I remember Grange Hill years ago when Gonch had disappeared, and everything was a disaster until Gonch got back
Or until Superman heard
Or until Batman came roaring over the hill in the Bat mobile.
It’s the background to Robin Hood, the king will one day come to replace the usurper King John.
And you could say that such hoping is escapism
It is an easy thing to do to look to a hero to save the day
Rather than simply admit that we are alone and hopeless in a darkened world.
But I want to suggest this morning that these stirrings for the return of the King
Are human stirrings, stirrings which lie very close to the lives of God’s people.
And on this first Sunday on advent, they are stirrings to which we must attend once again.
The Need To Hope
It is the need to hope which is injected into Christian faith
It seems almost to be a part of it.
In Jeremiah it happens with the promise of the branch to come
In Luke it is of the Son of Man who descends on clouds
Now the question I was wondering this week is “Why does God give this prophecy to Jeremiah, one of the earliest prophets, who spoke about five hundred years before Christ”, instead of Malachi, one of the latest, who was about three hundred years before.
Why does God inject two hundred years of unfulfilled waiting into the life of Israel.
And why, when the promise does eventually come to pass, in Jesus
Why is it that the minute the promise comes true,
Jesus injects more waiting into the life of the Church, with these words from Luke…
God seems to want us to wait for the impossible
God seems to want us to wait for the unprovable
God seems to want us to wait for him.
God wants a yearning, hoping, people,
Even if those hopes are unfulfilled in their life time.
The Seas Roar
The background of Jeremiah is of the city which has failed
And the nation which has failed
Israel was begun about 900 years before
And this experiment of being God’s people seems to have failed in the violence in the city
And the failure to have a judicial system which works
And a place where the poor and the oppressed are not protected by the state.
And the fear that the nations with their monstrous armies about are one day going to invade.
And into that place, Jeremiah does not pretend that the problems do not exist
And he does not give up in despair,
And he does not run away, escape
In the face of darkness he voices hope
He says a branch, a shoot, a tender promise of growth will one day come up
And that branch will execute justice and righteousness in the land
And the people of Judah will be saved
And people I n Jerusalem will dwell secure
And the name of the place will be “The Lord is our righteousness”
“The Lord is our righteousness”
Which means that relationships will be right
Because God is holding them together
Five hundred years before a baby is in Bethlehem
A prophet, in a dysfunctional city, refuses to pretend that the difficulties don’t exist
Refuses to give up
Refuses to run away
He voices hope, in God,
One day, the king will come
And the name of this place will be “The Lord is our righteousness”
But the second mystery happens around the life of Jesus.
Because he, in fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy comes
And he enters Jerusalem, the city that will one day be called “The Lord is our righteousness”
And people who know Jeremiah are watching.
And he begins to speak like Jeremiah
But he does a thing which is disturbing,
He postpones the day of righteousness
He moves it back, not just five hundred years,
But at least 2000 years,
When he says
There will one day be a time when there will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars
And on the nations distress and perplexity
Because of the roaring of the seas and the waves – something in a world of rising sea levels, where the heat of the sun is a threat as well as a friend
Jesus says the powers of heaven will be shaken
And then you will see the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory.
And when these things begin to happen
Not when the Son of Man appears, but I think when there is something different about the sun
And when the seas begin to roar
STRAIGHTEN UP AND RAISE YOUR HEADS
BECAUSE YOUR REDEMPTION IS DRAWING NEAR
In the teeth of the darkness
Do not be weighed down, and do not be attracted to drunkenness
– do you need get attracted to the things which are worst for you
– When the pressure is on the tightest, when it seems that nothing is good, and you need something to escape,
– Jesus knows this human tendency, and he says “Pray, pray that you may be ready”
And do not run away – escape
Do not pretend that nothing is happening
– this is the Jeremy Clarkson response, in the face of a sick planet, to pretend that the scientists have made it all up, and they can continue to drive as they like.
And do not give up
And do give in
STRAIGHTEN UP AND RAISE YOUR HEADS
BECAUSE YOUR REDEMPTION IS DRAWING NEAR
Now – you are right to come back at this point
And say, what’s the difference between that and a faith that promises nothing.
It’s like Vladimir Romanov saying “Believe”
There comes a point when you don’t believe any more
The team goes down the table, the players are not the same quality
And you have the same old boss saying “Believe”
There comes a point when you say, “Enough”, “I backed the wrong horse here”
I was a fool
I got it wrong, I really hoped, but now nothing has happened
I was a fool.
No one who is a true person of faith hasn’t gone through that moment
It has a special time – Holy Saturday
I am reading a book at the moment when the guy writing it is saying that all faith happens on Holy Saturday.
But what’s the difference between Jesus saying “Believe” and some deluded hypnotist saying the same
The difference is that three days later he rose from the dead
That was what kept the disciples going – a man has been raised from the dead.
You are saying “Hang on that’s great for them
They got this wonderful resurrection experience
What about us.”
Well we aren’t totally far apart from the resurrection
Intellectually, the exploration of the reasons why a group of frightened, ill-educated, disunited, grumbling low potential disciples founded the most significant faith movement the world has ever known
Asking that question,
And reaching the conclusion “The only possibility is that they really met Jesus after death”
That is the intellectually most satisfying, and most compelling reason to believe
I bang on about atoms and superstrings and far away planets
But the thing that counts the most is the resurrection.
That’s the thing that sustains you.
The Moments That Sustain
Moments when the curtain of heaven is all peeled back
And we know that God is with us.
It could happen in the middle of treatment for an illness
It could be a financial burden suddenly lifted by unexpected donation
It could be like the story that May told a while back of Helen Rosevere in Africa praying for a incubator for a baby.
Or Pete Greig talks about the agonising experience of his wife having seizures, and then one night she slept peacefully without pills, and they discovered in the morning that that night a prayer group had come from Reading to pray in the chapel and they had prayed all night.
There is the story of Alexander Solzinitskyn, the Russian dissident, who was one day in the Gulag, the slave camps of the Soviet Union, and this day he was working with his spade and he could take no more, he was hungry, he was cold and he eventually threw down his shovel and collapsed in the mud, and he knew what was coming next, the guards would beat him, probably to death, but before that another prisoner came and silently in the mud before him, scratched the sign of the cross, and he said “That moment I knew that there was something greater in the world than the Soviet Union, and that the hope of the world rested in the cross of Jesus Christ, and through the power of the cross, anything was possible.”
It is in the moment that you are lost and despondent and want to run away or give up
And then someone phones, or a letter arrives
Or an encounter that is rich with meaning.
Pete Greig writes on the “uppercase woman” blog authored by Cecily Kellogg. Here she writes after the shock of loosing twin boys in the womb, after 22 weeks of pregnancy, and that after IVF, and that after three years of trying for children:
This letter to you is only an exercise, an attempt to make contact. But be careful if you show up. I can scream, and scream loud, and I have some things to say to you. If you were standing before me, I’d hit you. I want to tell you to go away, to leave me alone. When I listen to myself, all I hear is screaming.
Months later, Cecily has a half-hour conversation with a 10 year old girl whose mother had been in prison for issues relating to crack addiction. Cecily writes here about the power of that conversation, and even of redemption:
I swear to you, it was worth every minunte of pain and spiritual agony I suffered to be bale to spend a half hour helping this girl. Really: I would have never been there to help if I hadn’t lost the boys. How amazing is that?
And the testimony of these people is of hope that is invested with rich meaning
Not before they have died, but after something important to t them has died
They encounter hope on the other side of death.
And these are intimations I believe of the prophecy of Jesus.
These happen in our personal lives,
They happen in our communities and in our world.
There are moments when the light breaks through.
When nations come up with some economic passage on debt
When apartheid ends in South Africa
When the Berlin Wall comes down
When democracy comes to a South American dictatorship
When Martin Luther King’s dream comes true in the election of a black president
Not far from any of these places were the people of God
Who in the face of the darkness
In the terror of the violence of the city
In the fear of the government that fails to protect the weakest
In resisting the temptation to run away
Or the blindness that says “There is no problem”
They prayed and they hoped.
That in the face of the despair and pain of living
We must not pretend that the painful thing is not there
Nor should we delude ourselves that the painful thing cannot happen
Nor should we run away, to buy ourselves half and hour, or an evening of escape
But in the face of the darkness we should hope
We should submit ourselves to the agony of hope.
God is well served by a people who hope
Their community living and their personal living nudge in the direction of paradise
Their bravery and courage in the face of darkness convince others that there might just be light beyond the darkness
Their faithfulness and determination in the path of death suggest to a disbelieving world that in Christ, death is not the end.
And on the day when the son comes
And the city is once again given safety
And the king returns to bring about justice
And the world says forever good bye to violence and to fear
The people of God will say
We are glad that we hoped
We are glad that we hoped