A few more than a hundred people were gathered to hear this presentation. I was present and was very encouraged and thought you might also be encouraged to read these words from Megan Sutherland.
Each Christmas at Compass, about this time of year, we begin celebrating the Advent season. A time where we look back in joy of the first advent and forward with hope to the second Advent. The return of our King.
The four weeks will be themed by the advent candles, Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love.
Today, we’ll begin with Hope.
From the very beginning of the bible, we see stories of hope. Adam and Eve hoped God had their best interest in mind when he set up the world. Noah had to hope that his boat would float and that he would be saved from the flood. Abraham had to hope in the promise that God would make his seed into a great nation. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had to also rest in the promise that what God said was true.
Now there is hope for us in their stories too because we know that they believed God but did so imperfectly. It was messy and they made many mistakes.
But down that imperfect line the son of God came.
· Through Tamar and Judah,
· Rahab and Salmon,
· Ruth and Boaz,
· David and Bathsheba who was Uriah’s Wife.
· Through the exile to Babylon and years as slaves in Egypt.
· An estimated 2000 years between Abraham and Jesus.
So often I look at the people in the past and say wow, I can’t believe how quickly they lose hope, how fast they forget.
· Noah built the ark in two of our lifetimes.
· The Abraham, Isaac and Jacob trilogy spanned 200 years!
· Israel was in Egypt longer than our country has been in existence.
Yes, they had promises, prophets, the handwriting of God, instructions from angels. But they had years upon years of silence with no bible, no Son of God on earth, the Holy Spirit not with them in the same way.
And yet, within those years and those mistakes and the mess, small pockets of people, had hope.
It has been a hard year for hope hasn’t it? We keep hoping that Covid 19 will be go away, yet hear we are, masked and social distanced. 8 months later – not sure when it will change. It’s been a hard year for mental health. Personally, I have felt burned out, depressed even at times as thing after thing is canceled and the things that are left to do are harder and less enjoyable.
It’s been a joke in my community group, “there’s nothing bad that covid-19 can’t make worse”
TIME 2020 the worst year ever. There have been worse years in US history, and certainly worse years in world history, but most of us alive today have seen nothing like this one.
You would need to be over 100 to remember the devastation of WWl and the 1918 flu pandemic; roughly 90 to have a sense of the economic deprivation wrought by the great depression; and in your 80s to retain any memory of WWll and its horrors.
The rest of us have had no training wheels for this.
I have some dear friends whose dad was diagnosed with a pretty serious form of cancer this March. He got some of the best treatment available and a little over a month ago, a pet scan at the mayo clinic revealed that his tumors had virtually disappeared. It was miraculous they said. My friends were excited and so hopeful that their dad was turning the corner.
He died last Sabbath.
What do we do in a time where it feels like so often, our hopes are dashed on the rocks?
Our hope in marriage, in our elected officials, in our government, in our health, in our sanity, our hope in decency and civility.
It’s almost like, 2020 is here to tell us that maybe, our hope is set in all the wrong things.
I went to my boss once and told him about some things I was experiencing with the employees on the line. They were upset with me and there were somethings that I could be doing better as their supervisor. I was looking for him to tell me what to do or how to respond.
And my wise boss smiled and said, “Over the course of your career Megan, your employees with give you gifts. Some of them will be wrapped up all pretty and they will smell good and you will like what you find inside. And other times, it is not packaged nicely, it stinks, and you will dislike what you find. But they are both gifts. They help you be a better leader. It’s up to you to choose to see it that way.
The dictionary defines hope as,
“a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.”
What does hope look like in our culture today?
Brene Brown added to the body of research on Hope saying this:
"The new cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. It also sets us up for hopelessness. When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think, This is supposed to be easy; it's not worth the effort, or, This should be easier: it's only hard and slow because I'm not good at it. Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it."
As the research is emerging, my generation is not very good at hopefulness. And the one after me is a bit worse. I’m not going to read through the stats, but We are more depressed and anxiety ridden than the ones before them.
And the thing about that Brene goes on to say,
Hopelessness is dangerous because it leads to feelings of powerlessness.
When we look at the stats and our felt experience especially in this year, it is hard to FEEL hope. It is easy to feel powerless. Powerless to stop disease. Powerless to have things go back to how they were before social distancing and masks. Powerless to do anything about the division that seems to pop up in every way across our county and bleeding into our own lives.
An amazing thing about the research is that hope, while thought to be a feeling, is actually more of a practice. It can be learned. Per usual, the Bible said what the research is just now discovering:
And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3) Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4) perseverance, character; and character, hope.
In 2020, we are in the perseverance section!
And as I repeat that cycle over and over throughout my life, my hope grows. Because I have a set of experiences that even when I am in the dark middle, I can look back and see other times when I made it, and believe that I will make it again.
5) And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 ) You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7) Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.
That is what advent is all about. Its about looking back at what God has done in the past, he sent his son to ultimately end human suffering. Jesus stepped into the same narrative, of suffering, perseverance, and came out the other side producing hope for the world. And we choose every advent season to look back and rest in and acknowledge those things that Jesus did in the past and we LEAN in. Our hope GROWs as we long for the 2nd advent.
Something that seems so prevalent today in our culture and especially in my generation is this idea that we feel hope, which causes us act, which causes us to surmount suffering or if at all possible avoid it. But that’s not what the Bible says and it’s not what the research says.
We develop a hopeful mind-set when we understand that some worthy endeavors will be difficult and time consuming and not enjoyable at all. Hope also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal happens to be fun, fast, and easy doesn't mean that it has less value than a difficult goal. If we want to cultivate hopefulness, we have to be willing to be flexible and demonstrate perseverance. Not every goal will look and feel the same. Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self are the heart of hope.
The research says the exact opposite of the cultural narrative: you have to choose a goal, go for it, experience how difficult that can be, push through it, and that creates hope.
The Bible says that that main goal is to, believe God. That’s the end all. Believe God. Follow Jesus. And when we suffer, because we will, we live on Earth, keep believing him. And the practice of continuing to believe and acting on that belief produces hope in us.
Oh but the grass is always greener isn’t it? Hope seems so much harder of a practice in the world we live in doesn’t it. There is so much heartache and death all around and now how the ability to see it all via the internet and social media. We literally have multibillion dollar companies whose whole job is distract us from belief. When we feel overwhelmed or board or whatever we have the world at our fingertips. Wouldn’t it have been easier to practice hope when you’re David watching sheep or Joseph hanging out in jail with only God to talk to? Or Abraham who mostly seemed to follow his wives and livestock around the countryside?
The author of Hebrews tells us,
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV
We live post promise, after Jesus. In him, the promise to Abraham was fulfilled. And it was like nothing anyone expected. Yet more beautiful and unthinkable and powerful than we can know even now.
And here we are at the eve of the second advent, the end and beginning of all things, and it is so easy to see ourselves in the characters of the first advent. We all hope we’re the shepherds and wiremen who stop at nothing to see the newborn King. But in all of us, we have some Pharisee telling us we need to keep it all together and do a few more things to get right with God. Some of us have more of a Zealot streak, we want to push the limits and show the conservatives how it’s done. Some of us like so many Jews, have hope but we don’t see it when the object of our hope has arrived. Some of us, like so many jews must have been, have lost hope as the promise seems too crazy, too long ago, and so far outside my own experience that it doesn’t seem believable anymore.
Over and over again through the story of God and Us, it appeared that hope was lost. The promise forgotten or revoked or destroyed by human error. And with each generation, light was revealed and a small remnant group of people carried the torch to the next generation.
Followers of Jesus have lost their way and found it again over and over in the 2000 years since the promise arrived. After Jesus, we know from the book of Acts, that Christianity spread rapidly in persecution.
· The massive spread of the church followed by mainline Christianity and the decline of the Roman Empire
· The 1300 years of cruelty as a dark wing of the church picked up where the Roman empire left off
· It was during those dark ages that the Waldensian movement was quietly birthed. Whose beliefs included lay preaching, voluntary poverty, and strict adherence to the Bible.
· The protestant reformation gave back the freedom to interpret scripture to the people.
· But out of that freedom, demented factions formed even as there were fresh, Holy Spirit filled ones.
· Methodists begin as a movement from within the Church of England and send missionaries to the United States during the American Revolution.
· It was during the great awakening in the 1800s that Baptists, Mormons, and Shakers came to be. A hundred and fifty years ago, out of a pocket of Methodists, a small group of people began to form who called themselves Adventists – to represent their hope and focus on the 2nd coming.
· And just over a decade ago, a small group of people wanted to start a service that would include the next generation now. It started once a month. And grew to be every week. They have relocated multiple times, but always, God has provided a bigger and more appropriate space. And here we sit, in this building we paid $500k for that appraises for over 2.3 million.
For thousands of years, small groups of people have put their hope in the promises of God and do their best with the light they’ve been given. It has been messy and fractioned. Some have rejected the light altogether. Some take what they like and leave the rest. Some get a little light and refuse to continue seeing more. But to each, God pursues and reveals himself. And through those small groups of people, the story of God and us continues.
I still very much feel like I’m in the bottom of the trough in 2020. Perseverance is the name of the game for me. I’m wanting to learn what
hope looks like in this season. There are so many things I often choose over pursing Great Giver of Hope. This advent season, in all the weirdness and Joy and heartbreak of the holidays, I’m choosing to find ways to practice hope. To believe God with my time, my actions, and my whole heart.
As followers of Jesus, we have a choice about 2020. We can let it make us hard and cynical. We can lose our faith and believe the lie that we must pick sides and cancel everyone who isn’t on the side we chose. OR we can choose to see 2020 as the messy, smelly, and poorly delivered gift we never wanted. A chance to lean in to the people close to us. An opportunity to get curious about someone who sees things differently. And invitation to have hard conversations we keep putting off. A choice to reject the cultural narrative that I must be on some side. An opportunity realize my primary identity as a follower of Jesus.
I invite you to join me in hope this Advent season. These next four weeks, lets practice believing God. Let’s pry our fists open around all though hoped 2020 would be, and put all our hope in Him.
13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
By Megan Sutherland