Second Sunday In Advent
December 8, 2019
“Do You Still Have It?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
I wonder, do you still have it? I guess it all depends on what “it” is, right? I lost “it” (my hair) right about the time when my kids turned into teenagers. Somehow I think those two things are connected. But in some ways I have plenty of “it” (extra weight), especially with lots of Christmas cookies needing to be eaten. But this past week I learned that I didn’t have much of a different kind of “it” – muscles and flexibility.
Recently Marilyn and I started looking around our house and determined that we needed to update the home. Well, the one thing that we wanted to do led to a second thing, then a third and a fourth…and we’re probably not done. Carpet, then paint, then plumbing, then furniture. I’m sure bankruptcy is next.
With all that work the furniture that we kept had to be stored in the garage and the basement, and this past Sunday it all got moved back to the right places. I asked Will, one of Ascension’s strong young men to help me. I found out early on that I don’t have it anymore. After a few heavy pieces of furniture going up a few levels of stairs I said to Will, “Will, I think you need a break. I don’t want you to get overworked. Let’s have a Pepsi or a Mountain Dew.” During that afternoon I realized that I don’t have it anymore and I’m not sure if it is coming back.
But the “it” that I’m talking about today is much more substantial than old man’s muscles – it is hope. Do you have hope? Do you still have hope? I’m convinced that Christmas time is a very discouraging time for many people. Some look at life and are just overwhelmed with its troubles. They wonder if anything will ever get better. They wonder if anything will ever change.
Do you still have it? Hope. Or has it disappeared, evaporated? Dreams are gone. A malaise and depression have settled in. Courtney, a man who is a regular in our homeless shelter says to me, repeatedly, “John, it’s tough out there.”
But this section of Scripture is just full of hope. Listen – “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) The last verse of this text says, “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.” (Romans 15:13)
Do you have it? A real hope? A true hope? A hope that is built on something that is solid and sure? This hope that God brings is not a fantasy, a wish, something that we just make up. There are people who have false hopes. If I am a Christian and God truly loves me then I won’t have troubles or loses or problems. Right? Wrong. That is a false hope. In Acts 14 when Paul went back to a number of communities where he had already preached it says, “Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Verses 21b-22)
Real hope that will really sustain you has to have the right object in focus. When Paul says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”, he asks us to go on a history lesson. What do you know about the Old Testament? What do you know about the Old Testament people? What I know is that they struggled. The Bible does not hide the frailty of Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah or any others. In the stories of God’s people in the Old Testament the people weren’t the heroes – God was the hero. Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah and all the others, at times wanted to give up, quit, turn the wrong way. Everyone of them was faithless at times.
God asked Moses to lead God’s people from slavery to freedom and God proved His power by numerous miracles. God told him, “Now go; I will help you speak and teach you what to say.” But Moses could only say, “Lord, please send someone else to do it.” (See Exodus 4:12-13) At least Moses had good manners, “Lord, please send someone else…” Did he have it? No. He didn’t have courage or ability or hope. Or how about Elijah? After seeing what God could do against the prophets of Baal you would think that he would be filled with hope about what was to come. But that wasn’t the case. Queen Jezebel was on his tail and this is what his prayer was, “He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’” (I Kings 19:4)
But there is a reason that we would have hope when we read the accounts of God’s people in the Old Testament – because God stayed true and strong and saving. Deuteronomy 7 is such a good word about what we should learn from the Old Testament, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery…” (Verses 7-8)
Do you still have it? Hope, do you still have it? If you have Him you have “it”. Hope is not some wish or fantasy, it is a guarantee from God that He will never leave you or forsake you, it is a promise of His faithfulness, it is a certainty that He speaks. You have it because you have Him and He has you. Do you know these words from Peter? “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” (I Peter 1:3-4)
Do you still have it? Yes, only because you have Him and He has you. And you don’t have just a teaspoon full of hope – you have buckets of it!! Jesus came for us. He died for our sins. He rose from death. We have the hope of God’s goodness to us now, and by faith in Christ we are promised everlasting life. Paul breaks out into a benediction about the hope that we have, “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.”
But maybe I haven’t convinced you. You think I’m just a bunch of hot air talking today. Hope left you a long time ago. To a people who had given up, the God of hope made a promise, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” (Isaiah 42:3) If you are that limp plant or that candle that is just smoldering, God is patient and He can bring life, full life, to you.
But if you are someone who has it, you can’t keep it. At least not just for yourself. Hope is not something to be greedy with. We are just a few weeks away from Christmas and you’ll be hearing the song of the angels the night Christ was born a few times in these next 17 days, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14 KJV) The news of God’s great revelation in Jesus is ours, we hold it in faith. And it also shows itself in good-will toward others. Hope is both held and shared.
When you have it, it will change how you are and what you do. In our reading from Romans 15 we receive God’s guidance, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:5-7) Peace on earth; good will toward men.
Do you still have it? Yes, you do. You have Jesus and Jesus will always have you. Amen!!