Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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If you know only a little about the Bible you know that it tells of a God who makes promises.  That doesn’t surprise you does it?  It’s one of the things we think of as normal about God, we pretty much take it for granted but maybe we shouldn’t as we also think of God as all powerful, a sovereign God who certainly could sit aloof and above the fray.  An all powerful God doesn’t have to make promises…but this one does.  It pretty much starts in the book of Genesis with the promises made to Abraham and Sarah, promises about land and offspring for this unlikely, childless old couple and this word of promise continues to be the underlying basis of much of what follows in the story of this family, a family through whom God’s story is told. 

The God of the Bible is a God who makes promises and sometimes they are fulfilled.  In the book of Joshua you find the statement, “Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to their ancestors that he would give them…Not one of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”

          That’s quite a statement; it must have been made on one of those good days, one of those times when everything seemed to be breaking the right way.  You’ve all had those days (I hope) when God’s in heaven and all’s right with the world.  But this experience of promises fulfilled really isn’t the biblical norm because more often the promises are not yet kept so that the people wait…and hope, in joy, in perplexity, in eager longing, sometimes in wonderment, sometimes in disillusionment. 

What is rather amazing though is that despite promises not yet kept, these people never give up and the prophets and poets of the Old Testament and the New Testament find ways to restate and reformulate the promises in new circumstances.  There is always the confidence that God has the power and the will to be with the people he has made promises to, confidence that there are new blessings to be given regardless of what the present situation looks like.  For these people, God’s promises keep the world open to the possibility of life giving well being.

          So…a defining characteristic of the God of the Bible is that he makes promises and a defining characteristic of the people of God is that they live in hope, they live in expectation of the fulfillment of these promises.  It doesn’t get much more Advent-y than that.  Advent is a season of hope, a season that emphasizes the fact that we are a people who practice hope just as our ancestors in the faith have done.  It is hope that refuses to give up on our relationship with God because it sees that relationship as being essential to the meaning of life.  Without a relationship with God life is not complete; something is missing; that’s what we believe.   We have hope that refuses to give up on the promises of God even though they are often promises not yet kept.  It is hope that refuses to give in to the despair of thinking that nothing’s going to change, that things are as they are and we just have to deal with it. 

You know that that is the attitude of a lot of people.  They have given up on God as an active agent in the world or maybe some can look at the beauty of creation and believe that God was once active, but they see him like the clockmaker who made the clock, wound it and then just sat back and watched as it ticked down.  That’s a pretty fatalistic view; there’s not a whole lot of hope in it, but Advent reminds us that that’s not who we are.

          Walter Brueggemann (you remember Walter Brueggemann) cites four components for the practice of hope.  The first is that hope requires what he calls a source and agent of newness who is not bound by the way things are, an agent who, in our understanding, is the God we know as Trinity, the God revealed in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, a God who is indeed active.  We pretty much accept that and take it for granted, but it is a clear contrast to hope that is grounded only in humanity’s ability to rearrange the pieces, to get something done before the clock ticks down all the way.  Our hope then, first and foremost, is theological; it starts with God.

          Hope also requires a community of faith and action that is open to the newness of God; that’s the second thing.  It’s a community that won’t give up on the promises; it’s like the community that formed around Abraham and Sarah, like the community around Moses, like the disciples and other followers of Jesus.  All those groups had their moments of doubt and questioning to be sure, but they wouldn’t give up.

          The third component of hope is a sacred text that provides oracles and poems and stories of possibilities that are new and available, a text that offers glimpses of what often remains hidden from us and which the powers that be in the world often want to keep hidden.  It’s an imaginative text that invites us to read with imagination.  In addition, the text calls us to obedience all of which leads to the fourth component of hope which is a community of interpretation which enables us to move from the ancient writings of the Bible into our own experiences so we can act accordingly knowing that we aren’t alone, that God is active in guiding us.  This involves teachers and pastors to be sure, but just as much it invites everyone into engagement with the scriptures.

          If that’s what’s needed to practice hope we’re in good shape because we’ve got those four things.  So…as a community that looks toward the fulfillment of promises, including those not yet kept, trusting in the God who makes those promises, we can look at and interpret the texts of this season with Advent eyes, with hope that isn’t merely focused on Christmas, but hope which defines who we are as followers of Jesus throughout the cycle of the year and the cycle of our lives.

          And hope is there in abundance in these texts.  The Isaiah passage is familiar.  There’s some Christmas prophecy and maybe some Christmas sentimentality in “a little child shall lead them” as the choir sang a few minutes ago but there’s more going on.  The chapter and a half before this passage is all judgment and threat but then we get this…and it’s so familiar we probably don’t hear how amazing the vision is.  Think about it; wolves don’t live with lambs; they kill them and eat them.  Leopards don’t lie down with kids nor lions with calves; they kill them and eat them.  Little children aren’t chosen as leaders.  You get the idea.  Yet the poet dares to imagine this, dares to say that threats and judgment may be real, but so is this.  Something new and very different and unexpected is going to happen.  That’s hope!!

          In the letter to the Romans, Paul’s context is entirely different, but he offers a vision of a community where Jews and Gentiles get along, they live in harmony, filled with hope and joy, united in the glory of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In his vision for the church Paul could see past boundaries that seemed like they would never be crossed.  That’s hope!!

          At first John the Baptist might seem like an unwelcome intruder into all this hope with his call for repentance, but not so fast.  He too was announcing that things were changing.  “The kingdom of heaven has come near!”  That’s hope!!  Why do you think the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to hear him?  I don’t think it was to see his funny clothes.  They remembered God’s promises about a Messiah.  They hadn’t given up.  Why do you think John was leery about the Pharisees and Sadducees?  He knew they didn’t really want change.  They were in charge, they liked the way things were.

          John the Baptist was announcing that change was on the way; he was announcing hope more than judgment.  Your bad trees are going to be chopped down and burned so you can plant more fruitful trees.  Your wheat will be stored in the granary and the chaff on your threshing floor is going to be burned so everything is clean; you have a fresh start.  That’s a message people living in hope would come out to hear.

          From Isaiah to Paul to Matthew, in three very different settings, we have texts of hope that renew the promises of God.  During Advent we hear these words again, we interpret them and know that this is who we are, a community of people in a divine relationship that we refuse to give up on.  There are promises already fulfilled but there are also promises not yet kept, we know that; so we wait and we hope.        


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”


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