Some Years, Hope is Thin on the Ground

A sermon preached at First Church UCC, Middletown CT on November 28, 2021

Scripture:  Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” 

we wait for a time when the living is easy

I put my Christmas tree up this week.  Thanksgiving is over and gone and my heart and my hope has turned to the message of Christmas.

Of course, I know, and you know, that it’s not Christmas, not yet.  and what I’m looking forward to really isn’t the part about getting together with family.  Sure, that’s important, and there’s just nothing like getting together with family – if that’s possible.

But that’s not the center of Christmas, not for those of us who follow the Christian path.  That part of the Christmas experience is something that’s only available to some of us.  It is less than nothing for those of us who have no family, or no family that welcomes us.  It is too much struggle for those of us who don’t have the dollars to spend on the gifts our families want. That Christmas, with its dream of a perfect gathering, lots of happy people, everyone enjoying themselves…. for too many of us, it is a dream.  And for all of us, it is a diversion, pulling us away from the deepest joy of Christmas.

Advent is a time to remember just exactly why we started looking forward to Christmas.  

Some years, this season is even harder than usual.  Some years, hope is thin on the ground.  and yet, yet, we remember, that the first thing to know about the path to Christmas is that it begins with hope.

Anne Lamott writes:  “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don’t give up.”  and her words are particularly apt for a season in which things continue to go in the wrong direction.  Her words speak to us, because she’s speaking truth:  hope begins in the dark.

We don’t need hope if we already have everything.  But the idea that we could have everything, and everything right and perfect – that’s one of the big lies of our world.  The truth of our lives is that we’re not perfect, that sometimes we’re really really far from even bare acceptance.  Sometimes the turkey isn’t any good.  Sometimes we spend the day shrinking from yet another political rant.  Sometimes mom dies just before the holidays.  Sometimes.  sometimes.  

And we are left, not with perfection, but with a struggle to even be good, and what keeps us going is hope.

Hope isn’t about what we have, or don’t have, or what happens or doesn’t happen. Last week we were cast down by the news of the Rittenhouse verdict; this week, we have the Arbery verdict to celebrate.  Life is something of a roller-coaster when we build our happiness on the facts of what’s happening.  Hope is a sturdier frame on which to build our lives because it focuses on the long term, keeps us from totally losing it when things take a dive, keeps us from thinking we’ve got it made when everything is going superbly.

Hope is a foundation on which we can build a good life.  That’s because hope doesn’t require success in order to be good, effective, life-changing.  It only requires our readiness to try again, to hope to make it better, to be ready to recognize that most of the time, what makes our lives good is sometimes little.

Our ancestors in faith heard God’s constant promises of hope throughout the stories of their faith.  In Jeremiah, God promises that there will be a better leader, a righteous branch, who will come to save them. Back in those days, it’s most likely that they saw the coming of a new king, a leader, who would drive out all those who sought to conquer their land.  In these days, we read that a little differently, and see a promise that there will be someone whom we can follow, who will give our lives a meaning that will endure through all the bad times.

We are waiting, then, for the coming promise of a better world.  

We are hoping, in our waiting, for a world where God’s promised justice rules actions, where God’s promised mercy lightens hearts, where God’s promised love brings strength in the midst of stress.

We are hoping, in our waiting, for Jesus to show us, once again, how to live.


© 2021, Virginia H. Child

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