Advent 2017 - HOPE
1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Isaiah 40:25-31, Psalm 80 1-7, 17-19
Good morning! Wow! It is so wonderful to be back at Briarwood. I really missed you all very much. I was flattened by shingles. Fortunately, for me, the pain was not bad. The biggest issue I struggled with was fatigue: bone-dead exhaustion that affected my body and my ability to think. I feel so much gratitude to God for improved health. I had no idea that I took good health for granted until I got sick. I now feel so much gratitude to God for the ability to do the simple things in life again. For weeks I could hardly do anything but sit on the couch. And I also now feel overwhelming gratitude to God that I can do this job, that I can be your minister, because I love it, and I had lost the ability to do this job while I was so sick. Even brief conversations were exhausting. I couldn’t think clearly, either. I remember opening my Bible and reading a passage from the Gospel of Luke and having no idea what it meant and I admit that it was scary. ... It is fitting that today we are starting our Advent celebrations and talking about Hope. Hope sustained me. Hope that I received from God and that I received from you.
One of the things that characterizes my experience with shingles is miracles. Big and small, funny and serious. One of the small miracles has to do with our Advent candles. This is a beautiful example of how the Holy Spirit is at work here at Briarwood. I have always used three purple and one pink Advent candle and didn’t know that Briarwood had always used all white candles. Independently, while I was sick, Fay learned about the Advent candle colours on her own and started the process of inquiring about whether or not we could use them here at Briarwood. I was amazed that this was happening. It was an example of the Holy Spirit at work even in the little things like colours and candles. This week is a purple week, for Hope. The other purple weeks are peace and love. Purple signifies royalty. We are celebrating our Infant King. It is also the colour for self-reflection and repentance. We examine ourselves in preparation to worship Jesus as our Infant King. The pink candle is the third week. It is for joy, and it signifies celebration. It is a reminder that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus. During Advent we are preparing ourselves to recognize the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that God gives to us through Jesus.
Another miracle that happened while I had shingles has to do with roads. And you know that if anything good happens in Montreal with roads that it is definitely a miracle. You know that I have a long commute. One of the roads I normally take had so many potholes last winter that all of us morning commuters would literally drive on the left side because we couldn’t drive on the right side. In the beginning of September, before I got sick, I already started to dread the winter commute on that road. Then I got sick. And while I was sick, they fixed the road! So the first time I came to Briarwood it was a smooth drive. Next week in Isaiah we will read how, “the uneven ground shall be made level, and the rough places a plane!” I’ve totally experienced that now.
Another miracle came into my life through you. Hope sustained me in my illness, but it wasn’t hope from me. It was hope from God, and hope from you. 1 Corinthians 1:4 that we read this morning says this: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.” During Advent, we prepare our hearts to celebrate Jesus’ birth, because it signifies that God is with us. Sometimes it is hard to see that God is with us in this life because while we already have Christ with us, dwelling in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, life is hard. It can be hard to notice God’s presence with us during difficult times in our lives. That is why the church is so important. While I had shingles, I saw God in you, and I wasn’t even physically present with you. God was with me through you. I saw, from 1 Corinthians 1:4, “the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.”
It all started with you guys taking care of me before I even understood what was happening to me. It took several weeks for me to realize how sick I was. Yet, there was a unanimous message from all of you telling me to rest, to take time to heal. For me, that was the first miracle, the body of Christ caring for me and giving me a directive to take care of myself.
It was very difficult to be away on sick leave for so many weeks. There were times when I felt guilty. There were times when I felt discouraged. There were times when I thought I would never get better. Here is where that sustained miracle of seeing God’s presence with me - in you - continued. Whenever I would feel those things, within twenty minutes I would either receive a card in the mail, or an email, or a text message, or a Facebook message, or a phone call, or I would open the freezer and find a note on top of a soup telling me exactly what I needed to hear to stay on sick leave for my own health and to give me hope that sustained me. That was a miracle, the way those notes showed up like that at just the right moment continually. That miracle happened because of you, and your faithfulness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. God brought a miracle of hope to my life through you.
I am also so grateful for the meals and the snacks that you sent as I watched my family get exhausted because I was too sick to do anything to help for so long. Being the church, being the body of Christ means that we live out and give Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love to others because that’s what God gives to us in Jesus. I saw God with me - in you - even though I wasn’t physically present with you because of the way you cared for me. You gave me hope when I needed it most.
In addition to all of this, I know that you were praying for me. I want you to know that your prayers for healing were answered. One of the symptoms of shingles is depression. I was diagnosed with depression in high school. And I was worried that I might get depressed from the shingles; that would have been normal for me. But I didn’t. And that is a huge miracle that I attribute to God through your prayers. Thank you so very much. Paul’s words to the Corinthians are true for me, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ Jesus.” You gave me a very tangible experience of the Hope God gives us in Christ Jesus.
To wrap things up, I want to look at hope in our Isaiah passage. What is hope? Hope is waiting patiently, trusting that good is coming. Even when we don’t know what that good is or we can’t even conceive that good could even be possible, hope is waiting with anticipation that it will come. We see this in our passage from Isaiah 40 this morning. In verse 31 of our Isaiah passage it says, “Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” The NIV translates this as “those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength.” Hope sustains us. Hope makes us strong when we are weak. Hope gives us success when we expect to fail. Hope helps us to keep going when we feel like giving up. Hope is patiently waiting on God, trusting that good is coming.
How do we know that we can trust God? How do we know that God cares? When we look at the beginning of our passage from Isaiah 40, starting in verse 25, it says this, “To whom will you compare me, or who is my equal? Says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and see; who created these?” He is talking about the stars and the whole universe. Continuing in our passage it says, “He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” What Isaiah is saying here is that our God, the God who is King, who chose to come into this world as a baby. Our God created the stars, the universe. When we look at the stars, there is an uncountable number of them. That is only what we can see. When you have that many of something, it doesn’t matter if you lose one or two, because you still have billions of them. And God has billions of stars. But it says that God calls each one by name and not one is missing. Isaiah’s point is that God cares about us even more than God cares about the stars. Look at the tenderness with which God knows and names each star. How much more will God do for us, who are made in the image of God? The Hope of the Advent season, that we receive in Jesus is, don’t give up. In Isaiah 40:29, it says that “[God] gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for [or hope in] the Lord will renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
So, hope! Hope in the Lord this Advent season. Keep alert! Keep watch for signs of Hope. Signs of hope in your own lives and also ways that you can be a sign of Hope from God for others, as you have already been for me. Amen.