Realism & Hope
Expectations are powerful emotions that can serve to excite and defeat us. How many of you have lived with a set of expectations for yourself or others that have led to disappointments or resentments? But to do away with expectations entirely would lead to chaos and a huge mess, wouldn’t it? It is sometimes necessary to raise people’s expectations in order to inspire hope, but it is precisely those high expectations that bring with them the greatest risk of failure or disappointment. Too many of those in a row and people either stop trying or become hopeless, jaded and cynical. We call them absolute realists. Our country was founded on realism but also hope. Each time we elect new leaders we do so with a combination of disappointments over the past mixed with hope for the future.
Our Advent theme this season was based on just that sort of political statement of hope. Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord. When I say political I mean that the implications of these verses, when God fulfills that vision, change the way we look, act and talk to and about each other. God, in these words, raises the expectations of God’s people and, in Jesus Christ, God fulfills those promises. The light of the Lord that Isaiah refers to is the light of God to all the nations of the world. Isaiah has just promised that everyone would come to Zion to be hear and see God, to be taught God’s ways. And from that gathering would flow forth… peace. Peace between all nations and all people.
A Vision of Hope Beyond Hope
Do you see where I’m going with this? Is it easy for you to dismiss these words as just words because let’s get real, how is there ever going to be peace between all peoples? Everyone is out to see after their own interests; this makes fighting and war inevitable. What kind of bleeding-heart stuff is this peace talk from Isaiah? And this hope bleeds into the words we heard read this morning from 33 chapters later.
The vision that Isaiah shares with us today belongs not just to the people who originally heard it but to us as well. God’s vision is a vision for the past, present and the future. When I hear the words of the prophet I cannot help but feel the same hunger that the people Isaiah preached to 3000 years ago must have been feeling:
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus is shall bloom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. the glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.”
That is a vision of hope beyond hope. It is the vision of a desert in bloom, a tired and dry land crying out in joy to God. It is why this is a season of hope, of a longing towards a reality that’s different than how many of us experience life on a daily basis.
What do we expect?
Christmas time is a season where God does to us the exact opposite of what we expect is to happen to us. Have any of us lived a life truly worthy to receive the child of God? And yet, in Jesus’ birth, God did just that. Came to us. While we were still dead in sin.
In Isaiah’s vision we hear from God: the weak will be strengthened, the weak knees will be made firm, those who live in fear will be made strong. There can be a day that is different than today, a day that has been given over to the Lord. That is a word that is worth hearing and it is a word worth bringing to our dry, desert land.
And all these unexpected graces and mercies point towards one thing, they all lead to one place, they are all on a road that leads us to God.
And these visions are not just pipe dreams. I’ve seen them happen in your lives and had them happen in mine. The miracles of God happen each and every day, brothers and sisters, from the moment you take your first breath of the morning dew you are living a miracle, another day given to you as a gift.
Whenever we take that risk to bring that word into the desert of our own lives and even more importantly the lives of our neighbors we are indeed prepared to watch deserts bloom. Where people have been written off we are fully prepared to watch new life spring forth. It happens each and every day.
Walk in the Light
The world we live in can indeed be sad and even terrifying but it only stays that way when we ignore the reality of God. Wherever God is present light defeats the darkness and fears are banished to the corner. Jesus is waiting even today to be born in our hearts and to bring the story of Christmas to your life, to my life and to the lives of those we have yet to even meet.
May we follow this vision even today. The worst thing we can do with this word is to hear it and judge for ourselves using the cynical realities of the world we live in. Instead, let us walk in the light of God this day. God has placed our feet on the path of righteousness and freedom, we move forward confident in the hope that God has given us in Jesus and sealed for us forever in Christ’s body and blood.
Let us pray.
God, we confess that it is you. You who executes justice for the oppressed; gives food to the hungry; sets the prisoners free; opens the eyes of the blind; lifts up those who are bowed down; watches over the alien, the orphan, and the widow. God, today we lift before you those same ones: the oppressed, the hungry, the homeless, those caught in prisons of their own addictions, those who are so depressed they cannot experience love. God, we ask today that you would bring healing in our lives, in the lives of our loved ones, in this church, in our nation, in our world. O come Emmanuel, God with us.