Advent 2 A December 8, 2019 . Hope Lutheran Church Riverside, CA
Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-7,18-19 Ro 15:4-13 Mt 3:1-12
If things are going well, we don’t really need hope. Take that any way you want to, but at least consider, that Hope is a thing which depends on something not going as planned and instead holding a desire for more, for better, for the possibility of a different ending.
It is hard to have or hold onto hope though in times of crisis, if there is not something to cling to- a shoot out of the stump that we can hope turns into a mighty tree. There has to be something left for us to cling to. Without hope, though, there is not much reason to hang around unless it is to grieve the end of what was.
I learned this past week of several creatures who are expected to be extinct soon. Orangutans, Gorillas, Rhinos, and Elephants are at the the top of the most endangered animals on earth. Quickly behind them are polar bears, leopards, and leatherback turtles. I was thinking about how many of them are dying off because of our intentional actions like hunting, and how many are dying because of unintentional actions, like habitat loss and climate change. I feel like there is no way I can fix this- that only I can change the polar sea caps melting. So in many ways, I guess I am hopeless for the polar bear. It feels really empty to sit with this hopelessness.
That is where John is, crying out in the wilderness. He is warning us of our endangered status- telling us there is a point where hope will run out and not be enough. The people who are out there telling us lies and letting us believe there is more time are only vipers after our death in the first place. But for those who are willing to repent, hope remains.
Repentance is not just saying, “I am sorry.” It’s more. In fact, it is less about apology and more about changing our ways going forward. Repentance is realizing we are more than going the wrong way on a path, or that we have done something wrong, but also likely on the wrong path altogether. It isn’t a street corner shout that we are all going to hell because we don’t believe, it is also taking time to make way for Christ and change in our lives.
Pastor David Lose reminds us that Advent is not a time to feel guilty about how we live before Christmas, but more about inviting ourselves to imagine that it doesn’t have to be this way and that we can take steps away from what is oppressing us and into God’s dream for our lives and creation. It is about making room for Christ. Repentance doesn’t have to be the final solution for polar bears, but instead one step toward a different path altogether. While it may not change what is in motion now, it may be able to change the future.
This year I learned about the impact of plastics on our water supply, so In our home, last year we stopped using plastic storage containers and this year I have been slowly buying reusable storage bags to replace ziplocs. It isn’t the final solution, it doesn’t fix the plastics in our rain or water supplies, but it was one step in the right direction on the right path because we became aware that we had to change or we had to give up hope.
I for one, was not willing to give up hope. I want to keep it, to bask in the warmth of dreams, and life in it.
John is reminding us, Christ is reminding us, we can hold onto hope, but we need to start somewhere to do so. One small change at a time can make a big difference. I stopped using plastic straws about a year ago, too. I have saved somewhere around 50 straws in that time. Now imagine if 50 of us did that. It would start to make a difference.
Our lives are like that one small change. As community in Christ, our small changes have cumulative effect and hope grows. We are called to repentance not just to say I am sorry, but to change the way we choose to be in the world. As you move through advent, I encourage you to make one change personally and one change communally. Every day of our lives, we are given a chance to remember our baptismal promise and start anew in Christ- and that is where hope lies. And each day, with each choice, hope can grow and thrive.
This is the message of Christ, that we are born and renewed and each day, our choice is to thrive in this new life and cling to hope for more today and tomorrow. And that is the message of Advent. Repent, Turn, Hope, Repeat.