God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our reading today from Paul's Letter to the Romans ends with this quote: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul also says, "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus."
In our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, the writer dreams of a time when there will be harmony among humans and animals on earth. "The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them."
Even John the Baptist, in his own way, is calling for people to have hope - to be baptized with the water of repentance by John. But someone who is mightier than John is coming after him and he will baptize with the Holy Spirit. But they need to repent of their sins, which is not just feeling sorry for what you have done. Repent means to turn around and go in a different direction, a direction that leads to God. It means to get back on the right track, when we have gone the wrong way. It means to begin seeing things differently, to begin to think differently, which leads to acting and living differently. When we see that we are out of step with God's dream for creation, we need to change.
John the Baptist drew people from the cities out to the desert to hear him preach, to be baptized by him. So what was it that drew people to John the Baptist? Obviously, it was not his choice of clothing or what he ate or where he lived. John the Baptist was saying things that people wanted to hear, that people needed to hear. They wanted to be washed clean of their sins, and guilt, and feelings of unworthiness. They wanted to change their lives and go in a new direction.
John invited them to start new lives, to offer their past sins to God and start anew. He told them of someone who was coming after him that was greater than he was, whose sandals he was not worthy to carry. He will baptize them with the Holy Spirit. Those words gave the people hope, that their lives could change, and perhaps they could live together in peace.
Isn't that what Isaiah was saying? These animals who fight each other can lie together in peace - the wolf and the lamb, the lion and the calf. And if they can do it, maybe we can too. Isn't that God's dream for all of creation - hope and harmony?
God's hope for creation is to bring in the kingdom of God on earth, for the world to be a place of peace and harmony, rather than fear and hatred. God's hope for creation is for us to see each other with compassion and love, where all of creation is filled with the peace and mercy of God. God's dream for us is that we love one another, no matter our differences, with all our heart, soul and mind. God calls us to live into that dream, not next month or next year, but right now.
What if John the Baptist was not yelling with a tone of doom and gloom, but with a voice filled with hope? He calls us to repent of our sins, turn toward God, "for the kingdom of God is near". Perhaps that is not a threat of condemnation but an invitation to live into God's dream. God invites us to turn our lives around, and that is good news, hopeful news.
Hope and harmony. The writers of the Old Testament spoke about it. Paul and other New Testament writers spoke about it - the hope to live together in peace and harmony with one another. That dream has been going on for thousands of years.
God invites us to dream beyond what we can presently see - the suffering of refugees, the homeless, the hungry, those who have lost loved ones through violence. God invites us, not to ignore these problems, but to help those who are afflicted and to look beyond this and see what the kingdom of God could be like - filled with peace, hope and harmony.
God knows we are not there yet. But are we headed in the right direction? Is the realization of the kingdom of God a bit closer today because of our actions? What can we do tomorrow and the next day to make God's kingdom on earth a bit more of a reality?
Like Paul, we who have witnessed God's hope for this world, perhaps in small, seemingly insignificant incidents, or perhaps in larger ways, we need to share that hope with a tired and exhausted world. We need to share the gospel message of Jesus Christ and do the work that God has called us to do - to help eleviate the suffering, to help the hungry and the homeless, to share the love of God with a hurting world that desperately needs to hear it.
During this Advent season, as we prepare ourselves for the birth of the Christ child, we also need to hope and pray for a world that is ready for the arrival of God, the kingdom of God on earth. It's so easy to get caught up and dragged down with the problems of this world. It's hard to watch the news night after night with stories of terrorism and murder, political infighting and hatred, racism and sexism.
But because we are people of God, we have hope. We have hope for a better and more peaceful world, with God at the head. We have hope that we can make a difference in the lives of others if we listen to God and open our eyes to the needs that are right in front of us. We have hope that we can change the world by spreading the gospel of God's love for us, in the hopes that people will see that loving one another is better than hating, that peace is better than wars and fighting, and working for the good of all is better than self-centeredness.
Advent is a time to look inside ourselves and see if we are headed in the right direction, to see if there is an area of our lives where we need to repent and turn back to the direction of God. It is a time of hopeful expectation.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Some ideas came from "Sermons That Work", December 8, 2019, by The Rev. Marcea Paul
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