Call to Worship:
Leader: Come, Lord Jesus!
People: Today we begin the journey of Advent. Let us pray that we may be ready and able to welcome the Christ child into our lives again.
Leader: May the keeping of Advent be upon our hearts and lives.
People: Come, Lord Jesus!
Leader: May this Advent wreath constantly remind us to prepare for Christ’s coming.
People: Come, Lord Jesus!
Leader: The first candle is the candle of HOPE. It was hope that gave people the courage to go on, and it was hope that directed their prayers toward a Messiah.
People: Because of our trust in what God has already done for us, we are bold to hope for what he will yet do with us.
(Light the first Advent candle)
Leader: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
People: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” May our lights so shine before others that they will give glory to our Father in heaven! Amen.
Scripture: Mark 13:24-37
24“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Mike has never been to me parent’s house in Aiken. From Florida, Aiken is not near anything so you spend the last two hours of the trip on one back road or another. My parents prefer Highway 16 right outside of Savannah up through small towns in Georgia going around Augusta, but I prefer going through the small towns in South Carolina and thinking of what life was like pre-World War. It’s full of pot holes and towns I’ve never heard of before and at the condition of the roads and obvious distress of the towns and the closed up shops on Main Street, Mike said it was downright depressing. I on the other hand, wonder what people DO there, how to people make a living, what will happen to all of those tiny United Methodist Churches in 10-20 years? It’s like that James Taylor song on Disney’s Cars “Your Town.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGlmCShMQpI) The land that time forgot. We stopped at a gas station after a particularly long stretch and the lady behind the cash register informed me that they had no bathroom, but we could find one two gas stations ahead but going the other way there’s nothing but woods. Never have I seen more gas stations without name brands. El Cheapo, Korner Stop with a K instead of a C…. Then I start thinking of a world like Divergent or the Hunger Games or the Zombie Apocalypse, we can go to a place like this where no one will bother us, and I vow to start learning how to grow plants, or maybe I’ll just take Shannon with me. These are my musings, when I see crumbling downtown’s. As we drove to Marion, SC, where my great aunt and uncle and first cousins live, we noticed the strip bar had closed. Mike made the comment, “You know times are tough, when the strip bars close.”
Times are tough. People are hurting. Are you going to offer them lottery tickets and Black Friday deals, that won’t last? Or the wellspring of hope that never runs dry? Those towns may never be what it was back in the day, a long time ago, because the world has changed so much, but the people in the towns, our brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, still have a hope, because they don’t know the hour or the day, it may come as a thief in the night, but if they put their hope and trust in Jesus, it will all eventually be alright because we’re a resurrection people.
We watched the movie, “We Bought a Zoo” with Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson over the break. It’s a true story about a dad, Ben, that’s just lost his wife, who has a son in high school and a daughter in elementary school. His son gets expelled for doing disturbing drawings and basically screaming out for his father to give him attention. His daughter is making her own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, where she writes on the bag with a sharpie PBJ and the J is backwards. He asks his daughter, “Am I doing anything right?” He puts his daughter to bed and picks up his son’s drawing book because he’s fallen asleep with it, and looks through the drawings for himself. As he’s getting ready for bed, he looks at the massive amounts of pill bottles from his wife’s battles with cancer, a picture of the two of them, and her earrings and Lucy, his daughter, walks in and says the neighbors were being loud. The neighbors are throwing a party and celebrating, perhaps Thanksgiving. She says, and this is heartbreaking, “Their Happy is Too Loud.” He hugs his daughter and begins looking for a new house the next morning. He wants everything “new.” He wants to start over. So long story short, he buys a zoo. Their – the rest of the world – happy is too loud. Have you ever felt that way? When you’re grieving, when you’re struggling, when you can’t get out of the bed in the morning? Have you ever wanted to plug up your ears and crawl under the covers and block out the world? You don’t want to check facebook and twitter especially – to see the faces that your “friends” want you to see.
We need to be real with people. We need to let the world see and know that Jesus doesn’t whitewash anything. He doesn’t say it’s going to be easy. He actually says it will be hard. As Christians as we journey towards the baby in the manger, the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, we have to be HOPE sharers. Each one of us needs to be a little hope beacon.
We live in a hurting world that needs HOPE all the more. I don’t have to tell y’all this because we’re inundated with news about our world going to heck in a hand basket. Ferguson, Isis, Grace Marketplace here in Gainesville – it reminds me of a quote by Archbishop Oscar Romero, “I also try to live these four weeks of Advent, this time of preparation for the Nativity, with an attitude of joyful hope and at the same time try to clothe myself in the virtues that the Word of God highlights: first, poverty and hunger for God, second, vigilance and faith; third, Christian presence and action in the world.”
A baby will come. Don’t forget that. As we travel through Advent, know that we’re not getting a safe Jesus that Ricky Bobby prays to, but a new world order. It reminds me of the song Bill Wolf wrote, “A Baby Will Come.” The lyrics are as follows:
The kings of this world
Have torn it apart
But we can take heart
A baby will come
To the hungry and meek
To those who grieve
To the broken in need
A baby will come
We have known pain
We’ve felt death’s sting
God help us believe
This baby will come
The angel appeared
Said do not fear
For peace is here
A baby has come
The advent of life
Let hope arise
We’ve our Savior and Christ
The baby has come
We’ve waited so long
God for Your mighty arm
May our doubts ever calm
For the baby has come
The proud will be low
The humble will know
They’re valued and loved
For the baby has come
Cause the kings of this world
Won’t have the last word
That God is Yours
For the baby has come
We don’t know everyone’s stories and we can’t assume things about people because we don’t know what struggles they’re going through. We can’t judge on the outside because we may miss what God wants us to see on the inside. Injustice and brokenness is nothing new, but God will have the last word and we have hope that it will be so.
Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We’re a people of hope. The South Carolina motto is Dum spiro spero, “While I breathe, I hope” and the people of Christ should be radiating the hope that comes from knowing that God will never leave nor forsake us. If we have hope built on nothing less than Christ’s abundant grace and salvation, it will see us through whenever Jesus returns. We do need to keep alert, living our faith out loud every day, being agents of hope as well as agents of change bringing God’s kingdom to earth. It can happen and it will happen, if we believe what we say we do.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says this, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
Whether we’re Black Friday shoppers or freedom fighters, grieving and hurting people, joyous, high on the mountain top, God goes with us every step of the way, and that is the Good News. Giving us the hope we need at the time when we most need it.
So back to the movie, “We Bought a Zoo, our reluctant hero, Ben, has maxed out all of his credit cards and has spent all of his father’s inheritance and spent all of his wife’s “Circus Money.” He got naively into the zoo business true, and as he entered his darkest hour, hope came from an unlikely source, the lady at Home Depot working the cash register. She sees the name on his maxed out (Lucy, his daughter, says it won’t work) credit card Rosemoor Animal Park, and she says she’s coming to the grand opening of the zoo because she remembers spending summers there as a child and she’ll bring her whole family. Fast forward a few clips and Ben cuts the ribbon officially opening the zoo, but no people come. Dylan senses something is wrong, so he runs ahead and there’s a tree down blocking the way. On the other side of the tree, cars are lined up as far as the eye can see, and the Home Depot lady is there with her family. Just that one word of hope kept his spirit going. You never know who needs that word of hope. You never know who needs reminding of the HOPE of a Savior who comes as Emmanuel – one with us – and lived and breathed and walked among us. Zechariah prays in Luke 1:78-79, “78By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” May we continue to come toward, to draw near the hope of Jesus as we journey through this Advent season.