Advent Hope (with a little help from Arlo)

Good morning. Today’s message got a big assist from my four year old buddy Arlo. Arlo just became a big brother and he’ll be a good one because Arlo is always thinking and is bound to be a good guy to come to for advice.

Last week he offered his theory about what happens when we die.  According to Arlo, when we die, we start over and become little again–just like his little brother.  So Arlo, we asked, “Is everyone little in heaven?”  “Yes, he confirmed.”

This is actually very helpful when trying to explain Advent.  Why would we welcome the new baby when we know he came a long time ago and has already died? Why would we repeat this every year?  Well duh, because according to Arlo’s theory. Jesus became a baby again!  Apparently he does this annually. And if you ask me, there’s a lot of hope in that. In fact…

The more I think about it,  hope is how most of us get through the day.  Hope keeps us going.  Hope gives us something to hold on to, especially when other things can feel like they’re slipping through our fingers.

Advent re-orients us back to a state of expectation and, well, pregnancy, as we wait, again, for Emmanuel God with us.  Its sweet don’t you think, that Advent reminds us again and again what we already know. That God is already with us.  That hope is real, and when we embrace hope, it can lead us to love, to peace, and to joy.  Every Advent we get to be pregnant with hope!

And while I think that is mostly certainly true, it’s important to also remember that hope is not an opioid prescribed to numb us to the realities of life around us.  Hope is not a false lens. It’s a way of living  life through the lens of the Christ child.

Entering Advent, we always begin with a gospel passage that grounds us in the stuff we try never to think about.  End of the world stuff is the scary.  Alaska just had a major earthquake.  California has had fires and now floods!  It’s been a very hard year for so many around the world and right here at home.

On this first Sunday of Advent, end-of-the-world-talk like this doesn’t sound very “Christmassy.” Or does it?  What was Luke trying to provoke in us?

Professor Karoline Lewis from Luther Seminary writes, “I have to believe that in saying these words, Jesus was not predicting our future but stating the truth of life as we know it. In that I take comfort and peace. Advent speaks to the tension between our reality and God’s vision for our future. Advent gives us a lens through which to see God at work when it seems only evil gets the spotlight. To assure us that God is always with us, breaking into our present.”

On this first Sunday of Advent, we are reminded that God shows up.  [Oh how I like that about God, don’t you?]  Advent is our annual, “Let’s review.” God shows up again and again because that’s who God is and what God does!

Rev. William Lamar writes, “In Luke’s Gospel, God shows up suspended in the amniotic fluid of an unwed teenage mother, and then again sleeping in a trough for livestock. A God like this is liable to show up anywhere!  And God does just that through the ministry and message of Jesus! In this week’s text, God shows up where we often expect God the least: in the temple, the church. Our Christmassy platitudes won’t bar the door. Today Jesus grabs the mic and thunders “apocalyptic words. If we listen, our numbness doesn’t stand a chance. “

Do you need to be reminded of all the things you forget when your focus slips from Jesus to the anxieties of life? I know I do! Jesus reorients everything! Jesus is present tense HOPE.

Today is my first Sunday in the St. John’s pulpit as your called pastor. I thank God and you for this new reality.  I hoped when I arrived a year ago that this would be a good experience for us all. I “hoped” you would like me and think I was doing a good job. I didn’t dare hope that this would be a relationship that would go much beyond a year. But God broke in, showing signs of hopes for us that were bigger.  God showed up and keeps showing up.  The paradox of a God like this is that we are continuously challenged by the realities of life and continuously promised that everything is alright. All is well. All manner of things are well. Even when they are not. Especially when they are not.

I think I’ll have to ask Arlo what he thinks of the words, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory!  I’m going to go out on a limb and say that 4 year old Arlo probably sees Jesus as a superhero, which makes us “disciples” his sidekicks.  So using Arlo’s logic, if we’re waiting for Jesus this Advent season, I think Jesus is also waiting for us!  Jesus is waiting for us to live into his greatest hope for the world.  And what is that kids?

(The kids of the church jump up to say what they say every Sunday at the end of service)

We are the body of Christ raised up for the world. Let’s go help Jesus!