The Second Sunday of Advent
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace…
2 Peter 3:15
- Old Testament: Isaiah 40:1-11
- Psalm: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
- Epistle: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
- Gospel: Mark 1:1-8
- For this week’s texts, visit LectionaryPage.net.
Sermons (Rev. Amy Welin)
8:00 am – Sermon
It was not the best year to celebrate any sort of religious holiday. It was a time of economic uncertainty following a time of war. The people were depressed and their cities were in shambles. Religious rituals may have seemed empty, spiritual relics from an earlier age when they were more sure that God was present. But it seemed as if the blessing had been withdrawn, and now they were on their own. And it was terrible.
Although I am speaking of the sixth century BC, the era when the Chosen People were exiled in Babylon following the Assyrian conquest of Judah, the experience of desolation that our lesson from Isaiah addresses evokes our own era, doesn’t it? And we can wonder, as they did, where shall we put our hope now? Where, indeed.
Where can we place our hope when so many things go wrong? In order to move forward in difficult times, we need to focus on hope. Remember, hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism means that we expect that the future will be good, because of the evidence we can see. Hope means we anticipate that all shall be well, because we trust in the promises of God. Hope is not the response of the weak or the naïve. Hope is strong and informed. Hope is a little defiant. Hope is tenacious.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims a word of hope to the people of Judah in exile. More often in the prophets, the word from God is a tough-love sort of correction, complete with name-calling and threats. The prophets always call the Chosen People back to God, reminding them that God is the only true source of hope and salvation. Today, the prophetic voice is filled with consolation and compassion, promising restoration and nurturance. God declares that their time of separation is over, and that the glory of God is
about to be revealed among them.
Over five centuries later (half a thousand years being like half a day to the Lord if we take the words of the epistle to heart), the beginning of the gospel – literally the good news – of Jesus Christ is anchored in the same prophetic tradition, combining Isaiah’s “prepare the way of the Lord” with the prophet Malachi’s image of a messenger going ahead of the Holy One (Mal 3.1) . John the Baptist is that messenger. John’s prophecy was so unique, so innovative, so full of hope for a desperate generation, that it is no wonder that Jesus refers to John as the greatest of the prophets. John pointed the people to a new hope, a hope that God would dwell with them and among them, cleansing them from their sins and transforming them, through the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, into new creations. We are not alone in our struggle. We are beloved. When the powers of this world betray and abuse us, God is waiting to redeem our suffering. Through Christ, God offers us the promise of eternal life. That is good news in a world of woe!
That is a word of hope that people still need to hear today. Hope is the work of the church. Hope is what we are about.
I experienced several wonderful hope-filled moments this week. A phone call from the sister of a young woman who had been hospitalized, to tell me that she had been released. Standing in line at the toy store when the police officer came in, asking for help picking out a gift for a needy child. I give thanks for these moments. They have helped me to remember that goodness and God are very present in the world, that love will conquer grief and sin. I imagine that each of you could share a reason for thanksgiving for hope-filled moments this week.
At the same time as we offer our own personal thanks, there are other people who give thanks for the ministries of the church. Think of the food. The Christmas gifts. The coats. There are not many institutions that offer hope to people in the wilderness. And hope is our business. We are the people who have heard the word of hope. Because of that, we are able to stand in the footsteps of the prophets. The prophets and John proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom, a reign based on love and not on power. We have received the same word from God, and it is up to us to share it with the world. How shall we show the world where we put our hope?
My friends, hope is a gift from God, and it is made visible by the work of many. Are we are willing to prepare the way for the Lord by sharing in divine work? Are we willing to participate in the joy of being a blessing and occasion of hope for others? Advent reminds us that we need to reorganize our lives and re-think what is most important to us. We are going to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. The Christ. The one who took away the sins of the world and the one who has given us eternal life. Life is often difficult and the headlines are usually depressing. And we have every good reason to be hopeful. Not optimistic. Hopeful.
How shall we show the world where we put our hope?
10:15 – A Conversation with St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra
LEADER: December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas lived long ago in the 4th century far away in Myra, a part of Asia Minor. He was known for his kindness and generosity to the needy. He was so loving to people that eventually he was asked to lead the Christians in Myra as their bishop.
Some of you are actively following his example of reaching out to the poor and rejected. That’s marvelous! You’re keeping a proper perspective on giving at a time of year when we feel tremendous pressure to buy unnecessary things for one another, while more needy people go without heat, nutritious food and friendship. It’s difficult these days to remember the one whose birthday we will be celebrating soon.
What kinds of gifts would Jesus want—our works of mercy and love? Imagine how this Christmas could be a truly Christian feast if we all followed Jesus’ example like Nicholas did.
[Saint Nicholas enters.]
SAINT NICHOLAS: That would be wonderful! Yes indeed! Nicholas, Bishop of Myra at your service.
LEADER: Well, Bishop Nicholas, can you give us some ideas about gift-giving?
NICHOLAS: I think Jesus showed us the way. He always tried to give to people who were poor, sick or lonely.
LEADER: Who might that be in our area?
NICHOLAS: Well, sometimes it’s someone in your own family, classroom, office or neighborhood who is feeling lonely or overwhelmed by a problem. They need your friendship and your time. You may not know the names of those who are struggling to heat their home, but they are right here in Harrisburg. I hear that the power company has a way for you to help pay their heating bills to keep them warm this winter. Or you can donate food to the local food bank. And don’t forget about helping people by donating to the Acting Dean’s discretionary fund.
LEADER: But if we use some of our gift money that way, we won’t have enough to buy expensive gifts for our families and friends. They might be disappointed.
NICHOLAS: That’s right. Sometimes it’s hard to be like Jesus. Remember that he promised his spirit would be with us at times like this to help us make loving choices. You can explain it to your friends and relatives, asking them to use their money for the needy too, instead of buying you a gift.
LEADER: Oh, that sounds tough!
NICHOLAS: But it feels wonderful!
LEADER: Saint Nicholas, can you tell us of a time when you gave a gift?
NICHOLAS: Let me think a moment. Oh yes, there was once a poor couple who had three daughters who were ready to get married. According to the custom of that time, the family needed money to give as a dowry for the daughters to marry. Without the money for dowries, the girls would have no choice but to become slaves. I didn’t want that to happen, so one night I secretly tossed some gold coins through the window.
LEADER: Did they ever find out it was you?
NICHOLAS: They thought it might be me, but I never told. That’s half the fun of giving-keeping it a secret. Like Jesus, I love to give to those in need. And I love to give to children.
NICHOLAS: I have a gift for you today. Who can remember the gift I gave to the three daughters?
CHILDREN: Gold coins.
NICHOLAS: Right! And I have some for you today, not real gold, but with a treat inside.
LEADER: Thank you for sharing your time with us today, Saint Nicholas. Your ideas about gift-giving will help us to remember those who are truly in need this Christmas season.