“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
I think by now all of my co-workers know that I’m a pastor. This past week three of us were chatting during some down time. One of them starts to tell the story about things once being kind of rough in his life.
He went down to the shore, he told the other two of us, and was walking along the beach thinking about his life. He had a vision of two sets of footprints in the sand, one his own and one belonging to Jesus.
I think you have an inkling of where his story was going. So did I. When you’re a pastor, people like to share these kinds of stories with you.
Then he continues telling his tale. He told us that in his vision he saw that the two sets of footprints in the sand turned into only one during a particularly rough patch in his life. In his vision, he turned to Jesus and asked why there was only that one set of footprints. He said to Jesus, “I thought you would always be there for me.” And again, I think you may have an inkling of where his story was going. As did I.
But there was no climactic: “When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you." Instead, there was Jesus only saying, “Yeah, that was my bad. I had a lot of things going on that day. Sorry about that.” Well, I didn’t see that ending coming of Jesus apologizing for not being there and letting the guy walk all by himself. It took me by surprise, and that did make me smile.
Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and Advent is also all about surprises. It’s the beginning of the church’s preparations for Christmas. When all people of faith were expecting a powerful Saviour sent from heaven, God came down to earth instead in a Bethlehem manger. During Advent, this is the surprise we anticipate, the coming of the Christ Child, and it begins with the message of hope not power.
The Reopels lit the first candle of the Advent Wreath, the candle of hope. Its light is not all that powerful. It’s just a single candle burning. Imagine if it were dark in here right now. How much light could that one candle possibly share?
Most all of us would be in the darkness. But the thing is, even in the darkness, we would still be able to see its light, the light of hope. And that’s what hope is all about. Hope is not reality – yet. Hope is our dreams, our expectations, what we would like to see. Hope gives us the optimism to keep going, to keep working, to keep trying to make things better. Hope is a beacon that draws us to its light. It doesn’t settle for the way things are. It gives us the strength to believe in what we can be.
Power, on the other hand, forces itself upon us. Hope changes us. Power uses us. Hope inspires us. Power threatens us. Hope makes us stronger. Power is outside of us. Hope is us. It’s what we want to be, what we can be. And that is so much more powerful than power.
The reason I shared that opening story of my co-worker is to get us thinking in surprising ways about the meaning of Advent, that we are preparing for Christ among us as one of us and what that says about us.
The coming of Jesus into our world promises that Jesus is never absent. He’s always near. Advent’s surprise that can make us smile is that because Jesus is us, we can be like Jesus.
By my co-worker’s story that I shared, I did not mean in any way to imply that Jesus is not there when we need Him most, but it is to tap into the surprise that when God comes to us as us, when God brings His holiness into the world in the ordinariness of human life, all of a sudden power is not what it used to be. Now it’s hope. Now there’s God revealing to us what we can be, what we can do.
That’s the message I want to emphasize by the image of the lone set of footprints: not abandonment, but trust. Jesus trusts us. He believes we can be better people.
I saw a bumper sticker the other day. It said something like “If you think there’s too much hatred in the world, be a nicer person.” We can look at the world and complain, or we can take the next step and be different than the world. For that not to be simply naïve, we have to have hope, and hope comes from God.
I saw pictures the other day of the world leaders gathered for the Group of Twenty meeting. There’s a lot of power in those people. But I also saw the Saudi prince who our CIA believes ordered the murder and dismemberment of a journalist who was one of his own countrymen. He’s most likely a murderer. I’m sure he was dressed in the finest of clothes. I’m sure he ate the finest of meals. I’m sure he seemed so refined and dignified, but he’s most likely a murderer.
We don’t have to fall for what the world elevates as important. We can be different. We can look past the glare of the world and look for the light of hope, a light that calls us to something different, a light that call us to make a difference, a light that calls us to be like Jesus.
Maybe all you’ll remember from today’s sermon is my co-worker’s story of Jesus’ “my bad,” but if you do, don’t think of it as Jesus forgetting about us and not being there, think of it as Jesus trusting us enough to believe in us.
This is hope, and this is where we begin our Advent preparations for the coming of the Christ Child. May His birth fill us with hope so that we can be different. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
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