Monday, December 05, 2016

December 4, 2016 Building Hope


Has there ever been a word filled with so much promise, so much longing, so much, well, hope?
As we continue with our theme of Building, this week’s message is Building Hope.  Our Scripture text comes from a time when hope was in short supply among God’s people.  Centuries had passed and there was nothing but silence from the heavens.  The prophets, encouraging as they might be, had no new word to offer from the Lord.  Faith, no doubt, had entered a time of struggle.  To make matters even more discouraging, years of living under the rule of the mighty Roman Empire brought a greater sense of despair upon the people.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come,

So wrote Alexander Pope.  Pope’s immortal first words, that hope springs eternal, are not true, however, because hope does not spring eternal.  Hope can be extinguished.  Hope can fall victim to the struggles of life and to the day in and day out pressures that bear upon us.  Scores of people, indeed, have lost hope throughout history.  Living in war zones, beset by famine, disease, and all manner of suffering, many people in our world have simply given up any hope they might have once entertained. 

In the centuries before the birth of Jesus many had also, no doubt, lost hope; perhaps even Zechariah, of whom we will read in a moment.  It was no small surprise when an angel appeared to Zechariah with the announcement that Elizabeth, his wife, would have a son.  It was such a wondrous possibility that Zechariah could not believe this news of hope; in fact, he expressed outright skepticism that such a wondrous, miraculous event could happen.  Such is the nature of hope; its promises can at times be so amazing that we can’t bring ourselves to believe they could ever be true. Listen now to our Scripture text, and listen for one statement in particular.  It is a statement every one of us would love to hear.

Luke 1:5-19 –
In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron.
Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.
But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.
Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,
he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.
10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.
11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.
12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear.
13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard (Emphasis mine). Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John.
14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth,
15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.
16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.
17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? (Emphasis mine) I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”
19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news.”

I want to offer you three challenges this morning.  The first is –

1.  Dare to have hope.
The statement to which I hoped would stand out to you in the Scripture reading is verse 13 – Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.  Isn’t that a great statement?  Those are some of the most powerful words in all of Scripture.  Here’s a guy who went about his work, day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month, and year-after-year.  He had many reasons not to have hope, one of which Luke tells us was that he and his wife, Elizabeth, had no children, and they had given up hope that they would.  When the angel tells Zechariah they would have a son – who would be John the Baptist – you can hear his hesitancy not only to believe the news but the hesitancy to embrace hope in his question – how can I be sure of this, he asks.  Give me some proof before I will believe.  I’m not going to get my hopes up only to be disappointed.  Before I will even entertain the possibility of hope, you have to give me something that would justify that hope.  But all he received was a promise.  That’s not much to go on, is it?  But that’s what hope asks of us.  Trust, believe, hope.  We’ll take that, won’t we?

A promise can be enough, and that’s what hope is – a promise, and we must dare to accept that promise.  Zechariah was given the promise, and wouldn’t you like to hear that same promise?  Don’t be afraid, Dave, your prayer has been heard.  Isn’t that a beautiful affirmation?  Wouldn’t you love to hear those words?  Don’t be afraid, Jim, your prayer has been heard.  Don’t be afraid, Betty, your prayer has been heard.  Imagine – that for which your heart has so longed, that for which you dared to dream, that for which you have so hoped, has been heard and will come to pass.

But we too are tempted to say how can I be sure of this?  Sometimes we can’t bring ourselves to hope; it’s simply too much to dare to have hope.  Why hope if you’re only going to be disappointed?  It’s easier to never hope than it is to have hope and then have those hopes dashed.

One of the most radical, resistant, defiant, rebellious acts we can commit today is to have hope.  That’s one of the things I love about faith, it dares to have hope.  Faith dares to fly in the face of popular opinion and to hold to hope.  Faith dares to reject that human reason tells us there is no evidence as to why we should embrace hope, but faith can see there are a multitude of reasons.  Dare to have hope!

2.  Never give up hope.
People often come to me looking for many things.  They come with questions, looking for answers; they come with needs, looking for provision; and they come with grief looking for comfort.  I’ll be honest with you and say that there are many times when I feel totally unequipped to answer their questions, to meet their needs, or to have adequate words of comfort.  Totally unequipped.  Sometimes I have to say, I don’t know the answer to your question.  Sometimes I have to say, I don’t know how to meet your need.  Sometimes I have to say, I don’t know how to take away your hurt and your pain and how to remove your loss.  But what I can say is, I don’t have the answer, I don’t have the provision, and I don’t have the comfort, but I know who does!  And there was a time when I felt as though that was such an inadequate answer, to say I don’t have what you need but I know who does, but over the years I have come to understand how often people are really asking for hope more than anything else.  They are not looking for an answer to every question as much as they are looking for someone to tell them there is One who can provide hope.  They are not looking for someone to make provision for every need they have but to affirm there is One who can make provision.  They are not looking for words of comfort as much as they are looking for One who is a comfort.  They are looking for someone to say to them, don’t ever give up hope.  There is One who justifies and makes real that hope!

I’m telling you today, don’t give up hope.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  Next week I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  Next month I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope.  Next year I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  When you are in the midst of despair I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  When you are struggling to make sense of loss I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  When you are wondering how you will make ends meet because the distance between the ends is so vast you don’t think it will ever be possible to bring them together I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  When you feel that long ago you surpassed the end of your rope, when you feel that not only is the night dark but the days are dark as well, when you wonder if there is any use in continuing on, when you wonder if anyone cares, when you wonder if God himself cares about you and if he understands your need, I’ll tell you, don’t give up hope!  Don’t ever, ever, ever give up hope!

3.  Be a messenger of hope.
Now, I’ll admit that I am a somewhat of a former hippy.  I was a bit young to be a full-fledged hippy back in the mid to late 60s, but I was a junior hippy.  I had the big hair, the bell bottoms; I had the whole hippy wardrobe.  Over the years I've lost my high school and college yearbooks, but the other evening I found a web site that had my college yearbooks online.  Yes, I did take a look at couldn't believe how I looked back then!  And no, I will not share that web address with you! I came of age in a time that had a level of optimism that now seems to have all but died.  Nobody sings songs about wearing flowers in your hair any more.  I miss those days.  I don’t miss putting flowers in my hair – and yes, I did that a time or two – but I miss the hope and idealism that was alive in those days.  Now it seems as though idealism has died.  Optimism became realism and realism became cynicism and that cynicism has taken hold with a vengeance and has put down deep, deep roots.  It’s not hard for us to become cynical.  We struggle with doing the right thing, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, only to see others get ahead and prosper in spite of questionable ethics, questionable business deals, and uncaring attitudes.  We begin to wonder, is there any reason to hold on to the good as Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:21?  Is there any reason to worry about anything or anyone beyond myself?  Won’t I feel better and do better if I let go of hope and go all in for myself and what I want out of life? 

We’ve got far too much of that in our world.  We need some more people to be messengers of hope.  You need to be a messenger of hope.  You need to be a messenger of hope because somebody needs you to be a messenger of hope.  I’m not talking about an oblivious naïveté that is willingly blind to the very real problems in our world and in the lives of those in our circle of acquaintance.  Just in case you haven’t noticed, our world is in bad shape, and so are most of us who are living in it.

There are macro concerns, big concerns, in our world – there is war and famine and all manner of struggle, and we must pray for world peace and that hungry children will be fed, and we must have hope that those needs will be met and we must work to meet those needs.  But there are micro concerns, as well, and they are our concerns.  The world has a long list of difficulties and problems but we’ve got our own set of difficulties and problems, don’t we?  The good news is that God is in both the macro and the micro.  God is concerned about the hungry children in the world and the warfare in the world and he is concerned about the problems in your world and in my world.  None of the problems – on a global scale or on a personal scale – escape either the attention or the concern of God.

Someone needs you to be a messenger of hope.  Someone in the circle of your life needs to hear you say, there is hope.  They might challenge you by saying something such as how can you have hope when there are so many insurmountable problems in this world?  How can you have hope when there are so many insurmountable problems in my world?  Are you not paying attention?  Yes, you say, I am paying attention.  I know all about the problems that seem insurmountable, in the world and in your life, and I choose hope.  I believe in hope.  I have hope, and I think you should have hope as well.
Dare to have hope.  Someone needs you to have hope.  The world needs you to have hope.  Never give up hope.  Someone needs to hold on to hope.  The world needs you to hold on to hope.  Be a messenger of hope.  Someone needs you be a messenger of hope.  The world needs you to be a messenger of hope. 

Let us go forth and build hope!

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