Abound in Advent Hope - Advent Midweek 2
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Delivered By
Rev. Nathaniel Schwartz
Delivered On
December 8, 2013
Central Passage
Romans 15:4-13
Description

ADVENT 2                     DECEMBER 8, 2013                      ROMANS 15:4-13

“FOR WHATEVER WAS WRITTEN IN FORMER DAYS WAS WRITTEN FOR OUR INSTRUCTION, THAT THROUGH ENDURANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF THE SCRIPTURES WE MIGHT HAVE HOPE…. MAY THE GOD OF HOPE FILL YOU WITH ALL JOY AND PEACE…SO THAT BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT YOU MAY ABOUND IN HOPE.”  THEME:  ABOUND IN ADVENT HOPE

“It was a dark and stormy night.”  Do you recognize those words?  In case you’ve forgotten (or are too young to remember), they’re the words of Snoopy, the white and black beagle in Charles Schulz’s beloved PEANUTS cartoon.  Among his many pastimes, such as flying his Sopwith Camel in World War I (battling the Red baron), collecting fine art, and sleeping on the roof of his doghouse, Snoopy is a “world famous author” whose stories are always rejected by the publisher.  Perhaps he was rejected because he was neither original nor particularly creative.

“It was a dark and stormy night…”; that’s how all his stories begin.  And even when Lucy and Linus try to help Snoopy find another beginning, such as “Once upon a time,” Snoopy persists.  “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night,” he writes.  Yes, up to the very last PEANUTS comic strip in February 2000, Snoopy was still writing about that dark and stormy night.

But maybe, just maybe, Snoopy sticks to that line PRECISELY BECAUSE its not all that original!  After all, life is full of dark and stormy nights, times of trials and troubles, hopelessness and despair.  And a great irony of the Advent Season is that while the air is filled with messages of peace and goodwill, we often struggle more profoundly with “dark and stormy nights,” “Icky, foggy mornings,” and stormy days.

Yes, without question, there certainly are dark and stormy times even in the lives of Christians.  For some of us, Christmas this year will be dark and stormy because of our grief.  Someone near and dear to us has died, and there will be an empty place at the dinner table Christmas Day.  For some of us, Christmas will be dark and stormy because of our brokenness.  Yes, images on television of family harmony around the Christmas tree only serve to remind us that our lives are often not like that at all.  Enmity and strife often accompany us to our Christmas celebrations.

For all of us, each day is made dark and stormy because of our sin.  That’s right, the storms of life do not just come upon us from the outside; they more often are things of our own creation.  Our sinful flesh rears its ugly head.  So we refuse to forgive and over time that seething, internalized anger destroys our physical and mental health and eats us alive.  We allow lust and passion to control us and we cross the line, violate the sixth commandment, and now must try to cope with the guilt and shame or a sexually transmitted disease.  Instead of controlling our emotions, we are rude or lash out in anger, and say or do hurtful things we regret.  And there’s no doubt that this list could go on and on because we are broken sinful people who excel at sinning.  We sin daily and plunge into the darkness of shame and guilt, remorse and sorrow, despair and hopelessness.

Well, my friends, we are not alone.  The Christians in Rome also knew about dark and stormy times.   They too battled with sin and brokenness!  We must also understand that they sere a small group in the midst of a hostile environment.   They regularly were treated with suspicion or were persecuted because of their faith.  Some Romans even implied that the Christians were cannibals because they partook of Christ’s body and blood during worship.  What’s more, the church in Rome struggled with the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians.  They also were threatened by any number of false teachers who intended to lure them away from the faith by their smooth talk and faithless deceptions.

Yes, my friends, the first-century Christians in Rome were ever in danger of slipping into hopelessness and despair.  And we can relate, can’t we?  Dark and stormy times within our marriages and families, where we work, and in our country can leave us frazzled and frustrated.  Doubts and fear might creep into our hearts and minds.  We might feel overwhelmed, abandoned, and alone and cry out, “God where are you when I really need you?”  In hopelessness and despair we might even be tempted to give up on God.

And when this happens, where do we look?  Well, we often look inward.  We focus on ourselves and seek to solve our own problems.  We try to convince ourselves that we can pull ourselves up out of the darkness by our own bootstraps.  Or we might seek the hope and comfort offered by our world.  You know, the hope found in a self-help book or a psychic hotline.  Or the comfort offered by a handful of pills, at the bottom of a bottle, or in the arms of someone other than our spouse.

In the end, however, we find that such comfort doesn’t last or it leads to only deeper darkness and despair.  We discover no hope in ourselves or in the solutions offered by our sin-fallen world.  Yes, ultimately we discover that the Scripture’s are true when they proclaim, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”

So where is true hope to be found?  Well, my friends, look at our text.  St. Paul declares, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Did you hear that?  Expectant, trusting, patient hope is not something that you and I conjure up during Advent, at Christmastime or at any other time of the year for that matter!  It is instead, always a gift from God!  Our God is the God of hope.  At one and the same time He is the object of our hope and also the giver of our hope!  Our hope is no human creation but the gift of the Holy Spirit!

And how exactly does the Holy Spirit deliver this hope to us?  Well, listen again to our text, as Paul writes, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Amazing!  Hope is not simply about our pious dreams for the future but about God’s clear and certain Word to us.  For hope is given to us through the Scriptures – both the Old and New Testaments.  So when we read the Old Testament account of God delivering the Israelites through the Red Sea, we are assured that even as He rescued them when things seem hopeless He can and will rescue us in our hour of great need.  And when we read about Jesus feeding the five thousand, we are assured that we can be filled with hope because our Risen Savior continues to provide for all our needs of body and soul.

Yes, let there be no doubt:  THE WORD OF GOD IS WRITTEN FOR OUR INSTRUCTION AND ENCOURAGEMENT SO THAT EVEN WHEN THE REALITY OF OUR PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCE IS DEFFERENCT FROM WHAT WE HAD EXPECTED, WE HAVE ENDURANCE AND ARE ENCOURAGED TO GO FORWARD.

But how can this be?  Well, ultimately, it’s because the Word points us to the Root of Jesse!  Again, listen to our text, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

Amazing!  Our ultimate hope is found in the Messiah who has come, Jesus Christ.  For in Christ, the promises to the patriarchs are fulfilled so the Gentiles, together with the Jews might glorify God for His mercy.    And this sort of hope is never put to shame but finds its strength in the Savior who lived a perfect life for us and who gave his life on the cross as the ransom for us all.

But Jesus did not stay dead.  He rose from the dead.  And this Risen Christ comes to us today to bring new life in the midst of our dark and stormy nights.  He comes to us at this table and gives us His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and to fill us with the hope of His love and the hope of eternal life in heaven!

Yes, the Root of Jesse springs forth in our lives.  He is our hope – for comfort in grief, for harmony in brokenness, for forgiveness of sins, and for the promise of eternal life in heaven.

So people of God, abound in this hope.  For it is real, and it is for you!  In our dark and stormy nights, we might at times have trouble even imagining that this hope exists, yet it is ours in Christ, free for the taking, a priceless treasure from the realm of God’s redeeming love.  And it is delivered to us as Christ’s comes to us through Word and Sacrament Ministry.  So, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.  Amen and Amen.