Happy New Year!
Many of you might know that the Christian calendar is not quite the same as the standardized global calendar. Don’t worry, you didn’t miss it, we still have a month until New Year’s Day and the turning of the calendar to 2019. But for us as Christians, today is the beginning of the new year. So Happy New Year!
For us, today is a day filled with new mercy, filled with new beginnings, filled with hope.
As Christians, we begin the new year a little differently than the rest of the world begins the new year. For many, the New Year begins with a party. People get together and eat rich foods and stay up late at night to watch the fireworks. It is associated with kisses, just a little too long to be appropriate in public.
And Christians, of course, are called to celebrate, too. We often speak here at Kerr about our call to party—to rejoice, to celebrate. But interestingly, that’s not how we start the New Year. Instead of starting the new year with celebration, we begin the new year with waiting.
Yeah. I know, that doesn’t sound nearly as much fun. But I do think it is more honest.
Most things in life do not start with celebration. Think of life itself. Those of you who have had a child know this better than most. Growing a life inside of you begins with waiting. You discover you are pregnant, which hopefully, is a joy and a delight as well as a challenge. And then you have to wait.
Some wait longer than others, but generally, it is about 9 long months of waiting. Now, of course, you don’t wait in stillness. It is not a waiting of boredom. It is a waiting of excitement. You prepare a place for the baby to sleep. You go to the doctor and count the rhythm of the child’s heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor. You throw a shower and bless the baby, recognizing that God has already blessed the little one growing in your womb.
And then you wait.
And sometimes the waiting is painful. It involves sore feet and a sore back. Sleepless nights and worry about what the future will whole. The whole world changes when the baby comes and you want to be ready.
And waiting is hard.
And labor is harder. You all know that I haven’t had a child of my own, but I have seen enough TV to know: labor is hard.
Life does not start with celebration. It starts with waiting. And preparation. And labor.
Then comes the celebration.
Through the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we the Christian community, the church, we do this too. We recognize the pattern of the life that God has blessed us with and we mirror it with our holidays. We don’t begin the new year with celebration, we begin it with waiting.
And so today and also for the next four weeks, our Scriptures are about waiting. They are about remembering what we are waiting for. And also about what we do while we wait.
When you came in today, you may have been given a calendar called “Advent Faith Practices” and on the back it has a list of Scriptures. Did everyone see it?
If you will for a moment, turn over the the back and take a look at this part…
Over the next four weeks we are going to be looking at four virtues. Perhaps “virtue” sounds like a funny old-fashioned word, but all a virtue is is a behavior. It is a way of being. It is a habit. It means that we live out qualities that matter. People know us for being a certain way. There are a lot of Christian virtues, but we are going to be looking at four of them: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Here’s the thing about Christian virtues, just like creating a child, you cannot do it by yourself. (okay, Mary mother of Jesus aside). We cannot create a child on our own. Nor can we create a virtue on our own.
We are dependent upon God to create virtue within us. Scripture says it this way: “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). We are born into sin. We are born with a will that wants to run away from God, from the one who created us and gives us our every breathe.
But the beautiful thing is, God does not leave us that way. God comes and finds us. God forgives us and gives us mercy and grace. So that we can become the people that God intends us to be.
And so God puts a seed in us. A baby, if you want to carry the analogy. God puts a baby inside you. I know, some of you are like—I never thought I’d be carrying a baby. But you are. You can all go home and tell your families you went to church and got pregnant. You are carrying inside of you during this advent season four babies. The babies of hope, peace, joy, and love. God gives each of us these babies, these virtues and then the power of the Holy Spirit enables us to grow them. To feed them. To nurture them.
And so in this season of waiting we want to tend to our babies. You can do that in many ways. The first is to read the Scriptures that we will be reading in church. You can see those on the back of the calendar. But then the calendar itself gives you something each and every day that you can do to practice your faith. To live into becoming people of hope, peace, joy, and love.
Notice that they are not difficult things. For instance look at Thursday the 6th. What do you do on that day? (Light a candle.) Light a candle and think about hope. Some of them are beautifully family friendly, like look at Friday the 7th. (Yeah, spend a moment by yourself or with your family growing your imagination.) Part of hope is learning to see beyond what is in front of you. This is a fun and creative way to live in to hope. And some of them are more active. What is your activity for today? Right. How can we share hope with others? Think of someone who might need encouragement today. Give them a call. Send them a card. Shoot them a text. Ping them somehow and let them know you care. Cultivate hope in the community.
So today we wait. Do you feel like we’ve been waiting a long time to get into the Scriptures today? Yeah, that’s intentional. It is a day of waiting. Of feeling restless. Of allowing anticipation to build.
The Steelers don’t play until 8 so we have plenty of time.
Let’s spend the last ten minutes of our sermon time digging into the Scriptures. And specifically, into this virtue called hope. What is hope? What are we hoping for? What is the substance of our hope?
If you still have your Bible’s open, let’s look again at Psalm 130.
The Psalmist begins: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
One of the things that I love about most Psalms is that we don’t really know who wrote them or what the circumstances were when they were written. Sure, David wrote a bunch. And some of them have little notes about Moses crossing the red sea and other major events. But generally, the Psalms are like this one.
Someone. On day. Poured out his or her soul before the Lord. And these are the words that flowed from them.
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!”
Another person, in hearing this prayer, wrote it down. Because we people of faith, we share our faith, we share our virtues, with one another. And someone heard this and said, yes. Yes, I have felt like that too. And then they prayed together. And then soon the whole community prayed as if one voice rising up to God. And the Holy Spirit enabled these prayers to be written down in the Bible so that we can pray them, too. No matter our circumstance.
So the Psalmist cried out: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice.”
It’s possible that the person who prayed this prayer first was saying it in the time of Jeremiah. Our Old Testament Scriptures today is from Jeremiah and you may know that the prophet Jeremiah wrote in a very difficult time. The people had turned away from God. They were worshiping other gods. They were oppressing their own people—the rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. The widows and orphans and strangers were being neglected.
And so, Jeremiah tells us, God brought ruin among the people.
God does not allow us to continue in our sin. God does not allow people to oppress one another forever. For a while, God might have patience with us, hoping that we will turn back to God. But if we will not, God will get our attention. God is loving. So loving. Loving enough to not allow us to continue in sin. To not allow us to hurt one another.
And in Jeremiah’s case, God allowed the Babylonian Empire to take over Israel, the people group who Jeremiah was writing to. And we can imagine a person standing within this time calling out to God: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications (of my requests).
The Babylonians were ruthless. They came in and carried off prisoners. They separated families—children from their mothers and fathers—and forced people to relocate to new lands. It is not unlike what the early settlers did to the Native Americans here in the US.
And the Psalmist is distraught.
He has lost his homeland, his place of worship, his family. Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
We can imagine that he starts to wail, to pray this prayer. And then all of those around him join in as well. Praying this prayer of longing.
But then the Spirit enables him to go on. To keep praying. To not give into despair but to pray with boldness.
The Psalmist looks to the Lord and remembers who God is. (Read 3-4)
Our Lord doesn’t let sin stand. The Lord does not allow us to continue in sin and will get our attention in any way that God needs to do so if we continue in our sin, especially in our oppression of others. But God is forgiving. God’s very nature is to forgive. And thank God for that. For if God was to keep a record of our wrongs (mark our iniquities as the Psalmist says), we could not stand. We cannot balance the scale between what we have done wrong and what we do right. This is impossible. There is not scale because God is perfect. God is always good. God is always right. We can never measure up to that.
But the good news of the gospel is: we don’t have to. The Lord Jesus Christ came that we might be set free from sin and death that we might be forgiven.
And the Psalmist knows this is the very heart of God. God is a God of love and forgiveness.
So he says (3-4).
Then he calls on his soul to wait.
He calls his community in advent, into waiting.
He calls us into advent, into waiting.
(Read v 5-6).
More than the soldiers who lined the wall around the city, waiting and watching all night in fear of attack. More than that, we wait. We wait with intensity. We wait and watch. And we hope in the morning. For the time when we will no longer be under attack. For the time when the light of God will shine and we will see God’s glory shining.
The Psalmist calls: O Israel, hope in the Lord. And we could read that today as O Church, hope in the Lord. Remember, these are prayers that intentionally do not have context because they are meant to be used by all people in all places and times.
So, we might read today, “O Church, hope in the Lord!”
And why do we hope? (verse 7).
We hope in God for God is love.
We hope in God for God has power.
We hope in God for God will redeem us.
God will call us out of the depths and restore us to God.
Our New Testament Scripture assures us that just as the fig tree blooms in the Spring, so can we be assured that winter will not last for always. Our lives may seem bleak at times, but Christ has come and Christ will come again.
God will not abandon us. God loves us. And will forgive us.
God loves you. God forgives you… There is nothing…
Friends, this week like us grow the baby of hope inside us. For with the Lord there is steadfast love and with him is great power to redeem.