That We Might Have Hope
2 Advent, A
Hope and promises always go together. Where someone holds on to hope you know there is a promise somewhere underneath it all. And when a promise is made, there hopes will be laid. The better the promise, the bigger the hope. Right around this time of year many a child is holding on to the promise that if they are good they will be on a certain nice list and should receive a welcome visitor in just a few weeks. Some are hoping beyond all hope that the payback will be truly extravagant, or that certain realities may be forgiven, forgotten, or fixed in time for the big day. But no matter how grand the promise of presents may be today, come December 26th it will have zero ability to guide or correct any child’s life and behaviour for another whole year! The promise of naughty or nice just doesn’t have that kind of staying power to keep one’s hopes up. So what kind of promise does hold such a year-round hope? Paul tells us in our Epistle reading for this morning.
8For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” 10And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” 11And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” 12And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”
Here is the promise that provides a lasting hope and changes peoples’ lives forever! Hope is Conviction. Hope is based not just on promises made, but on promises fulfilled. And all God's promises are fulfilled in Christ. Paul is calling the Romans (and us) to love one another. For the strong and the weak to accept each other as Christ accepts us. This includes the young and the old. The wide-eyed new Christian, and the grizzled veteran of the cross. This also included (thankfully for us) the Gentiles. Although Jesus was a servant of the Jews in the sense that He came first for the Jews, the Gentiles were always in God's plan. This was part of His original covenant promise to Abraham, the light which would be for all the nations.
And further, God will continue to keep His promises, as He has always done. As He did when you were baptized. That is His Holy and unchanging nature. Christ has not ceased to be the servant of the Jews. He has not broken His covenant with them. God is still faithful to His promises. Christ made God's promises to the patriarchs come true. In the first of the OT quotations Christ is praising God among the Gentiles. In the fourth of those quotations, Christ is described as the King of the Gentiles, the One in whom the Gentiles hope. In the second and the third both Gentiles and Jews, in prophecy, are being told to rejoice together.
4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Hope is a Gift from God Himself to boys and girls, men and women, whether they are naughty or nice. Hope is the one gift we need so dearly in this long and often troubling life. The Scriptures console us, help us to endure and keep our grip on our eternal hope in Christ. Hope is the child of faith. As Luther said: “Hope therefore removes all material things. Hence we need patience. And in place of material things God gives us the Word of comfort by which we are sustained so that we do not lack in patience.”
God is a God of hope. We believe in Him … trust in His promises … He gives us hope. Sin and unbelief separate us from God and destroy our trust in His promises and we find ourselves losing hope. Our relationship with the God of hope comes through the forgiveness He offers in the sacrifice of His Son. As we remember our Baptism, as we live in repentance, we are born again into that living hope.
13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. That's pretty strong language. It's an even more powerful thought. When you have the Gospel you have all joy and all peace, though you may not feel it as much as you'd like. He fills you by faith and the result is that "you abound in hope," the sure conviction that you are his precious child, safe in His arms, and on the way to everlasting life.
Hope is given by the power of the Holy Spirit. Joy and peace are gifts of the Spirit. Hope always comes with Joy and Peace. Verse 13 is a benediction, a prayer. This prayer asks that the God of hope would confirm them in their hope. That we would be filled with joy and peace as we believe and trust. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Spiritual joy is as necessary to the soul as blood is to the body.” Even in times of trouble we Christians can have joy and hope. A sense of well-being and fulfillment. We have peace when we are justified. The promises of God fulfilled in Jesus give that peace which the world cannot understand.
Advent directs us once again to the promise of the coming of our great and glorious King. For it is in the coming of this King that all our hopes lie. And that is precisely what He does in each and every Baptism. He comes. He gathers us together in His family. He blesses. He promises. And then, as we wait through all the ups and down of life, all the possibilities and all the futilities, all the good and all the bad … we know that Christmas is coming. That Christ is coming. And so we wait even still, with hope and joy and peace. 5May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.