But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,Lamentations 3:21-24 (NRSV)
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”
Happy New Year! Did you know that today is the first day of the church’s liturgical year? The church year always begins with the season of Advent, which starts today! Advent is a time of waiting and preparation as we prepare our hearts, our lives, and our homes for the coming of the Christ Child. But waiting can be difficult sometimes, can’t it?
The truth is, as people of the 21st century, we are not very good at waiting. We have been trained by the speed of technology and the rapid pace at which we live our lives to expect instant gratification, to get what we want when we want it. But the fact is, my friends, we all have to wait for things sometimes, don’t we?
For me, during the season of Advent, there is no better symbol of waiting than an empty stable–so simple, so every day, so ordinary. And there is nothing special about it unless we wait and watch and listen for the story to unfold. Because two thousand years ago, it was in a simple stable that it all began.
Well, speaking of beginnings, this week we began lighting our Advent candles. Our advent candle today reminds us that no matter what situation we find ourselves in, we should always wait with hope. And what that means is that no matter how bad, or sad, or difficult things around us look, if we look at the world around us through the eyes of faith, we see that there is always good news on the horizon, that the possibility of something wonderful is always coming, and that there is always light just about to break forth.
Our scripture reading today from the book of Lamentations is a perfect example. The word “lamentation” means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow or weeping.” And the book of Lamentations tells about the desolation of Judah after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. Lamentations is absolutely an appropriate name for this book of the Bible, but we need a little background to truly understand why.
The Book of Lamentations was written anonymously, though it is often assumed to be the work of the prophet Jeremiah. It was written just a few years after 586 BC, which was one of the darkest and most savage times in the history of God’s people and for the city of Jerusalem. For about thirty months, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had laid siege to Jerusalem. The city was surrounded. No one could get in or out, and no food or provisions from outside could get in. The people were trapped within the walls of Jerusalem, enduring appalling conditions, and the majority of them either died then or when the siege was finally broken as the walls of the city were breached and the Babylonian soldiers broke through and massacred the people. It doesn’t sound like a very happy story filled with hope, does it?
Well, even though the Book of Lamentations is filled with such sadness and despair, in the midst of that darkness and right in the middle of the Book of Lamentations, the writer shines a light that offers a future worth living for. He reminds them that no matter what is happening around them that in God there is always hope. He says: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.” In the midst of everything bad, the writer has found something good, and it gives him hope.
Hope, my friends, is something of incredible value. It’s priceless really! Thankfully, what the writer of Lamentations found was hope in God–a hope that would carry him through even the toughest times. And thank goodness he knew in his heart that hope was not something to keep to himself, but it was something that he had to share with others!
Over and over again in the Old Testament, we hear stories of prophets encouraging people to hold onto hope. No matter how bad or sad or difficult things around them looked, they remind the people that there was always good news on the horizon, that something wonderful was always coming, and that there is always light just about to break forth.
Our Christmas story is very similar. As far back as eight hundred years before Jesus was born, some prophets began telling of the Messiah who would come and save the world, filling people with hope and giving them a reason to keep going. The prophet Micah said: “Out of Bethlehem…will come one who will be King of Israel.” And the prophet Isaiah shared those age-old words of hope: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and he shall be called Emmanuel, meaning God with us. Isaiah went on to say: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
So, almost eight hundred years before Jesus was born, the promise of hope was given. And through their words, the prophet Isaiah, the prophet Micah, and the prophet Jerimiah let everyone know that the possibilities are endless, and to never, ever give up hope, even when times are tough. Now granted, not everyone understood it back then. But the truth is not everyone understands it today either, more than two thousand years later.
Okay, so how does all this history and talk of promises made thousands of years ago change our lives today? Well, I think it reminds us of God’s constant love for us and that because of God’s love there has always been hope, there is hope now, and there will always be hope in the future.
Friends, today we lit the candle of hope, remembering the hope that God helped the prophets bring to the people of Israel, in the midst of their struggle, and the promise that God made to future generations, including us! And it is my hope during this first week of advent and beyond, even in the midst of a pandemic and in the crazy upside-down world that we live in when we are scattered and not gathered, when we have to stay home to stay safe, when we are mandated to wear masks and stay socially distant, when illness and death rates are on the rise, and we are kept from our family and friends and our holiday celebrations must be kept simple, that we will continue to carry within us the light of hope, looking for glimpses of hope in our homes, in our communities, and in the world as we share the optimism, the confidence, the expectation, the anticipation, and the promise of possibility that the candle of hope brings to us, and to the world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, in the days and weeks and months ahead, let us carry with us the light of hope, offering it as an invitation to ourselves and others to open our eyes to the glimpses of hope all around us. And rather than focusing on what we can’t do, or who we can’t see, or where we can’t go, let’s slow down and enjoy the sacred gift of the season, remembering God’s love for us and the promise of our coming Savior which fills us with hope, and is the gift that was, and is, and shall always be!
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!