Signs of Hope

December 1, 2019 – Rev. Paula Norbert


I hope you all enjoyed a lovely Thanksgiving with family, friends, good food and time to relax.  So quickly after, we find ourselves in the first Sunday of Advent today as we begin this cycle once again and look to the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.  Last week, we spoke about the Gospel of Luke and how the writer carefully wove together the story of Jesus in the time of the Roman occupation from the calling of the census to the birth, life, ministry and ultimate death of Jesus on the cross.  If we step back and look at the heart of the Bible, we find the story that underlies every other story that we hear in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and that is the story of how God created this great and beautiful universe, all living things, including all of humanity and of God’s desire to be in a covenantal relationship with people throughout time.  In this season of Advent as we look to the birth of Jesus, we are invited to prepare in a sense for our own re-birth.  Advent gives us a new way of looking at things, an invitation to participate in the joy of the heavens and nature all around us. It is written in the heavens how very, very important our lives are.  The sun, the moon, and the stars remind us of our deep cosmic connection and we are invited to awaken once again to the new stories that may emerge in our lives and in our world in this season.   Let us pray, we ask your blessing this day, O Holy One, as we gather to begin this journey toward Christmas.  Open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the ways in which you speak to us of hope, of joy, of peace and of love in this time.  Amen.

As we begin this season of Advent, we are invited to look for the precious signs of hope in our lives, to pay attention to the small and wonderful moments that present themselves and remind us that we are connected to one another.  The reading from Isaiah presents a vision of hope where we are invited to see the things that Isaiah saw.  In her commentary on Isaiah, Rev. Barbara Lundblad reminds us that the prophet was able to paint a picture with words. Isaiah saw a temple high in the mountains where disputes are settled peacefully, swords turned into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks. The weapons of war become tools for cultivation. Through images, Isaiah offers the people of Jerusalem a new perspective, one that offers hope during times of war and despair.  While people long for joy and hope, sometimes it can be hard to see or find.  Over the past year, many in our nation and around the world have felt that sense of despair, of fear and anxiety as we watched conflicts between nations, natural disasters force people from their homes and communities, children separated from their parents at the border and we only wish that we could imagine a way to a better future for those who suffer.  We long for hope and we are not alone.  We are woven together in this fabric of life and we must look to the creative visions of those who may bring solutions, resolution, joy and peace.

When we speak of joy as the centerpiece of our Advent Worship in the weeks ahead, we are speaking of a Joy that is steadfast and faithful. Joy that courses through the cosmos, nurturing and sustaining life regardless of our attention to it. On the surface of things, our world looks bleak. How can we look beneath the surface for that cosmic story of life? How can we help connect people to and abide in deep joy?

As many of you know, Rich and I and our children recently met the newest member of our family, little Ella, who was born on November 8th.  There’s nothing like a new baby to bring joy to our hearts and hope to our world.  You may have seen a wonderful photo that was published a few weeks ago from Pittsburg, PA.   To commemorate World Kindness Day, Pittsburgh’s West Penn Hospital dressed infants in their nursery in red cardigans — in the style of Pittsburgh hero Fred Rogers.   The local Public TV station WQED, where he filmed his wonderful show, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood for many years,  created a holiday called Cardigan Day, as an offshoot of World Kindness Day, to commemorate Mister Rogers and his iconic get-up: a red cardigan and a tie. Residents were encouraged to remember Mister Rogers and to “express your kindness by showing off your cardigan and sharing it with the world.” From their birth, these precious new little lives are signs of kindness and of hope to the world. Imagine at the end of our own days that kindness would be our legacy to the world?  How much we need it in these times.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two great films, a documentary and this recent film, have focused on Mr. Rogers.   And so, in this season, let’s reflect on some of these questions:

What, or who, needs to be lifted up in hope this day?

Where have we fallen down in celebrating the beauty of each being?

How can we find a unity where all are included, like the circle of the wreath?

What keeps us from “making room” in our lives for God?

What perspective needs to be shifted in order to embrace hope?

Are we contributing a voice of hope or a voice of negativity?

Advent is a time of anticipation. A time of hope for good and gracious things to come. But it isn’t a time of passive waiting. In this time between the darkness of night and the light of day, each of us is called to “wake up and get dressed!” In our baptism we are ordained to the work of the Gospel and it seems this is something like a third shift. Who will be in the shop grinding away at sharp edges, creating plows and pruning hooks, while the rest of the world sleeps?

We can wait around for the right tools for the job or we can create them. We can continue to see just what is on the surface or we can dig deep and see something we could not have even imagined. How do we best prepare to make room for the Christ child? How do we help to usher in new light, new insight, new perspectives?