Hope in Advent by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

Isaiah 64:4-9 (The Message)

Since before time began, no one has ever imagined, no ear heard, no eye seen, a God like you who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who happily do what is right, who keep a good memory of the way you work. But how angry you’ve been with us! We’ve sinned and kept at it for so long! Is there any hope for us? Can we be saved? We’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags. We dry up like autumn leaves— sin-dried and blown off by the wind. No one prays to you or makes an effort to reach out to you because you’ve turned away from us, left us to stew in our sins. 8-12 Still, God, you are our Father. We’re the clay, and you’re our potter: All of us are what you made us. Don’t be too angry with us, O God. Don’t keep a permanent account of wrongdoing. Keep in mind, please, we are your people—all of us.  

My niece Kayleigh challenged me during the Christmas break a couple of years ago, to assist her in completing a princess puzzle on her iPad. She was familiar with each piece. I tried to make one piece fit where it did not fit. Kayleigh had worked with the puzzle long enough to the point where she knew exactly where each piece should go. Despite my efforts to dissuade her on the position, she moved my hand and said, “No Aunt Deanie,” and fit the piece in perfectly. 

We are living in dangerous times, when our children and youth, don’t know how their lives are supposed to fit in with the realities they see and face. Many believe the answer is to compartmentalize lives into racial, physical, geographical, and economic stereotypes, deciding who should fit in where. Bullet-sprayed lives are lost to hate, ignorance, mental illness, and violence. If families can’t find hope in their community, where do they find it? The church’s role is to walk with people, to bring hope, not as the world suggests, because the world does not have the inside knowledge or spiritual intuition that the church is supposed to have, to give life-sustaining hope during times of degradation in our society.

Isaiah 64 is a continuation of Isaiah 63. It is community prayer of lament for guidance, confession, forgiveness, and a sincere desire for God’s spirit to be present among God’s people. Moses led the children of Israel, a generation who, in all their failures, still acknowledged the need to petition God, based on God’s faithfulness to their community. The author remembers and reminds God of God’s faithfulness to the collective body. This petition for hope is for all of us in creation, as the basis for God’s authority in humanity’s activity (Yes, I still believe that God is in charge). Not for some of us and not for some specific group over the other. All God’s children need guidance, confession, forgiveness, and God’s presence. The collective is all of us – together, as the prophet reminded God that God loves all of us.

It is the memory of God’s tender mercies, and his compassion that orients this plea and gives it divine bearing for our lives today. Jesus came into the world with a mission so that all would have freedom and assurance of life. So that churches will be vital and sustainable, so that the hungry can be fed, and those who are sick can have medical provisions. Wrapped in human flesh, to spread the good news, Jesus invites us to join in with the hosts of heaven, to witness the miracle of birth, life, and inclusion, for all God’s people. 

I pray we will confess and lift prayers to bring hope to our churches and communities. Let us confess what we have not done, and what we can do to impact the Kingdom of God. Let us confess that we are afraid and fearful of others – that we really don’t know others outside of our own perceptions and circles of influence. Let us confess that we don’t know how to love and respect others.

Morgan Freeman shared in the classic, Shawshank Redemption, “Hope is a dangerous thing – hope can drive a man insane.”  After Andy’s escape, Morgan experienced hope in his own parole as he began a journey full of hope – hoping that he could make it across the border – hoping to see his friend Andy and shake his hand, and hoping that the pacific is as blue as it had been in his dreams. This advent season, I pray that the Great River Region sees hope as a dangerous thing and have the courage to share this hope, to live this hope, and represent this hope in the darkest of places.  

For each Sunday of Advent, we will share a reflection on each candle leading up to the Christ candle event.