What is This Hope Thing?

Sunday’s sermon

[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/225863-what-is-this-hope-thing.mp3]

Text version (approximately the same)

We begin Advent in a time of cold and darkness.  We may hate the cold weather and the shortening days but in the cold and darkness we are reminded that better times are ahead.  It is a reminder that life comes in seasons, some are cold and dark but some are warm and light.

The people of Habakkuk’s day struggled with darkness, too.  Remember the King of Assyria and his amazing army from a couple of week’s back?  Well, Habakkuk lives in the time shortly after the King of Assyria came through and wiped out Jerusalem.  Habakkuk is a contemporary of Jeremiah’s and as Jason noted last week, the Babylonians are a problem because they are coming in as conquerors.  And not friendly, pet-like conquerors.  I mean, you can bring a cat into your home and they’ll definitely take over but in kind of a nice way for the most part.  The Babylonians?  Not so much.  They wanted money, property, slaves and they were not known for their politeness.

So there is a lot of news for Habakkuk’s people.  Very little of it is good news.  Which is why we hear Habakkuk’s cry of despair, his lament.  It sounds like his heart is breaking when he cries out in v1, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you do not listen?”  We might say today something like I’ve prayed and prayed and there is no answer.

Wow, how many times have we said that?  How many times have we been jammed up, turned to God and just waited on a God that doesn’t not seem to answer?  How many times have we lifted up our prayers and God just doesn’t seem to get it?

We’re left in a place where we are waiting, waiting for answered prayers.

We don’t like waiting very much.  For the most part it is true for most people that we want what we want and we want it now.  Unless there is a big sale on piece of new technology and then we’ll camp out for days to wait for that stuff.  But for the most part, we don’t like to wait for much of anything.  How long can you miss the light turning green before someone will honk at you?  How long will you wait in a line at the grocery store that is not moving before moving to another line?

We live our lives seeking instant gratification and we don’t do waiting very well.  Waiting at the light or changing lines at the grocery store are relatively minor inconveniences for most of us.  How do we handle waiting when it is serious? How do we handle waiting for test results to come back?  How do we handle waiting for someone that is overdue to walk in the door?

We wait, hoping for good news.

Hope is an interesting thing.  Viewed passively, it is kind of a dangerous thing.  A passive, sit around and hope for something different while you wait is a passive kind of hope that eventually leads to despair.  If you’ve seen the movie Shawshank Redemption you may remember Morgan Freeman’s character Red saying, “Hope is a dangerous thing.  Hope can drive a man insane.”  I think that is probably true if we’re sitting around hoping for something to happen.

I suspect that is the view of hope most commonly thought of.  Lift up your prayers to God and wait patiently and faithfully until your prayers are answered.  Be faithful and all will be well.  Just have enough faith and it will work out okay.  Be good little Christian people and God will reward your goodness.  We buy into the lie that if God brings you to it God will bring you through it as if God causes all the trouble in the world just waiting for the right moment to swoop in like a superhero and make it all better.

There is another view of hope of what hope means and that is the hope that we hear Habakkuk is lifting up today.  Habakkuk tells us to hold onto our hope in an active fashion.  Yes, things may seem cold and dark today, things may in fact be cold and dark today.  Even so, continue living our lives in faith.  Not faith as an explanation or an answer to what we’re waiting for but faith as a way of life.

Faith as a way of life, commended to us by God in the Bible.  Faith lived as praying often, faith lived as feeding the hungry, faith lived as taking care of our neighbors, faith lived as standing up for those who are oppressed.  Faith lived as Bringing Christ’s Love to Life.

Faith lived as we wait.  And hope.  In Habakkuk’s writing in Hebrew it is an interesting thing that in Hebrew the word for hope and the word for waiting are about the same thing.  This is true in Spanish as well.  So when Habakkuk says in chapter three that when the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vine and when the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food and when the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, he will rejoice in the Lord.  By faith he will wait.  By faith he will hope.

In the same way, when our lives feel cold and dark, we too rejoice in the Lord.  By faith, we wait.  By faith, we hope.

Hope is a good thing.  Video Clip Illustration  Hope is a good thing.  Maybe the best thing.

We wait, hoping for good news.  That’s kind of what Advent is all about.  We wait, hoping for the good news of a savior.  We wait, hoping for the one that gives us our faith.  As we wait we live out our faith as we prepare.  We put up the trees and the decorations and we wrap the presents soon to be opened.  We wait and we hope.

Hope is a good thing.


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