November 30, 2014
What’s on your wish list for Christmas this year? This is the time of year that every retailer wants to convince you that their item needs to be on your or your loved one’s list, whether it’s a toy, or a cruise, or a car. Or maybe you’re looking for wish lists from your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews. We just helped our daughter and son-in-law take the photo for their Christmas card. In one shot, their 2 year-old son is holding a chalk board with his “Wish List: □Baby sister or □Baby brother.” This is no idle wish. Their family is actually preparing for a new baby, due in June.
Advent is the season when the Church talks about hope. Hope is different from wishing. I can remember the thrill of the Sears Christmas catalog arriving in the mail when I was a little girl. So many toys! Which ones would we put on our wish list? We turned our wishes into hopes by actively lobbying—well, maybe nagging is a better word—let’s say pestering our parents. But the truth is, that we had little or no control over the outcome. As an adult, I can wish for something that’s totally impossible, like being taller, but I can’t do anything to make that happen. And that’s part of the difference between wishing and hoping—whether we have any control over the outcome. Well, maybe that’s not completely true. I wish for a number of things over which I have control, but I am not invested enough in the outcome to work toward it. For instance, I wish I could lose weight. But I don’t try very hard. My daily response when I stand on the scale is, “Today I have to lose weight.” Then I go about my day, never thinking about it again. Seriously, never giving it another thought. My mind may say I want to lose weight, but my heart is thinking, “Oh well.” That’s the difference between wishing and hoping. Wishing can say, “Oh well,” and keep going in the same direction. Hope makes us roll up our sleeves and work toward our dream.
So what does the Church mean when we talk about hope during Advent? We are not hoping for a baby that will be born, even though it can look like that. The prophet Isaiah is often called the fifth gospel because it proclaimed good news in the times that it was written. It called Israel and Judah to abandon unjust practices and embrace ways of living that make for a blessed community. Isaiah envisioned a time when people would beat their swords into plowshare and not learn how to make war any longer. Isaiah calls the people to car for the most vulnerable in their society, the widows and orphans. That’s what war creates—widows and orphans. Isaiah envisions the poor being cared for. My favorite chapter is the 58th, near the end of Isaiah that sums up what Isaiah hears God saying.
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation
that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest
on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help,
and he will say, Here I am.
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger,
the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations
of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests
on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests,
or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon
the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage
of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
I try to hear these words for our nation and culture. Is there any hope that we could beat our weapons into plows? There is a group of people who are transforming guns into gardening tools. It’s a small effort, but it captures the imagination. Is there any hope that our government could not learn war anymore? Or is that an empty wish, a pipe dream? A religious fantasy?
Isaiah hopes for a different future, and lays out a plan that builds a Beloved Community instead of destroying others and itself in the process. Isaiah envisions individuals who are courageous enough to care for God’s people and build God’s Kingdom because God cares for the people as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
In Luke’s gospel, the priest Zechariah, prays a blessing that echoes Isaiah over his son John, who would later be called the Baptist. Zechariah envisions his infant son being one of those courageous leaders who would call the people back to God’s dream of the Beloved Community. And here’s our hope comes in. Christians all over the world prays Zechariah’s prayer every morning to hear these words:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Our hope comes from individuals who hear their own names being called to be prophets of the most high God, to go before the Lord preparing the way, offering restoration and wholeness through mercy and forgiveness so that we all might experience the dawn of God’s Kingdom and find our way into peace. You child, and you child, and you child, and me. May we put our hearts and hands and feet into our hopes for peace. It will never happen if it remains only a wish. You child, and you child, and you are God’s hope for peace.