First Testament: Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Epistle: Galatians 4: 3b-7
Gospel: Mark 13:24-27
Heinrich and I are being a bit of a “tag team” during this Advent Season. He had already begun planning worship for the Advent Season when he discovered that he would need to be absent today. So, responsibility for setting the stage for worship during the Advent Season falls to me.
The people of the religious context (Judaism) into which Jesus was born had an acute sense of the Presence of God. However, when life was difficult, they sometimes lost hope because life was so difficult. They had lost the right of self-determination as a result of the Roman conquest. The Romans were cruel overlords who tried to impose emperor worship on the nations they conquered – in addition to demanding very high taxes. It felt like God had abandoned God’s people.
Sometimes, it feels to us as if God has abandoned us –
- when we see what is being played out in the political life of our neighbour nation to the south and realize how dangerous that could become, not only for the USA, but also for the rest of the world
- when we are experiencing personal difficulties: illness, family discord, financial insecurity, job dissatisfaction, painful disappointments, etc.
- when our leaders seem unwilling or unable to address issues like the climate emergency and other national and international disasters that threaten to destroy the world as we know it
How do we humans find HOPE when, even though we know that God is never absent from the human situation, it feels as if God is far, far away?
The thing is, the very conditions that resulted in much suffering for the Jews, were conditions that made it possible for the Christian message to spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East and Europe – as far away as Britain, Ireland, and the Scandinavian countries.
The Romans had constructed roads that connected city to city, making travel easier. All roads eventually led to Rome. The world was at peace under Roman rule. Roman laws protected the citizens and Roman soldiers guarded the peace. Thanks to the Greek and Roman conquests, Latin and Greek were known throughout the empire making communication possible all over the “known world.” The Roman Empire was the equivalent of the internet (or maybe, for some of us, like the telephone).
This is not to say that very many people “noticed” when a young woman gave birth to a male child in a stable in Bethlehem and named him “Jesus.” Yes – it was something of a local phenomenon that attracted some shepherds in that particular region. Yes – astrologers (the Magi) saw indications in the patterns of the stars in the sky of an occasion for wonder and found their way to his birthplace. And yes – the astrologers created some anxiety for the rulers of Israel which resulted in a time of severe governmental oppression.
But Jesus WAS born – and we celebrate that through the Advent season by thinking about how we experience Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
So how DO we humans make HOPE happen?
HOPE finds us. And that is what we celebrate, today.
Jürgen Moltmann is a German theologian who is known to many as THE “theologian of hope.” Born in 1926, he had had no religious education and was planning to become a mathematician. However, he was drafted into military service in 1944 at the age of 18 and became a soldier in the German army. Ordered to the front lines of the battle between Germany and Britain, he surrendered in 1945 to the first British soldier he met. For the next few years (1945–48), he was confined as a prisoner of war and moved from camp to camp.
At first, Moltmann was confined in Belgium. In the Belgium P.O.W. camp, the prisoners were given little to do. Moltmann and his fellow prisoners were tormented by “memories and gnawing thoughts.” Moltmann claimed to have lost all hope and confidence in German culture because of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. The prisoners were also exposed to photographs nailed up confrontationally in their huts – photographs of Buchenwald and the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Moltmann claimed his remorse was so great, he often felt he would have rather died along with many of his comrades than live to face what their nation had done.
Moltmann met a group of Christians in a British POW camp in Scotland during the last couple of years of his internment, and was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms by an American chaplain. He gradually felt more and more identification with and reliance on the Christian faith. He even began the formal study of theology while he was still a British prisoner. Moltmann later claimed, “I didn’t find Christ. He found me.” Moltmann went on to become a minister and a professor of theology in Germany. I had the privilege of hearing him lecture at an international conference in Melbourne, Australia in 1987. For a brief experience of Moltmann talking about who God is, see the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_XG7NywtjM.
Our challenge and opportunity, seeking HOPE in the context of hopelessness, is to allow Jesus to find us.
Often, we humans get confused about what it means to hope.
Hope is not about unrealistic expectations.
Hope is not about expecting the impossible to happen.
Hope is not about expecting a cure when we have Stage 4 cancer.
Rather, hope is about placing one’s-self in a place of being able to deal with whatever comes. And it’s about expecting, whatever our situation, that Christ will find us in that situation and journey with us.
God did not HAVE to be born in a stable in Bethlehem. But God CHOSE to be born among us humans so that we might know that God really cares and wants to journey with us whatever our situation and circumstances.
 The next three paragraphs are adapted from the Wikipedia article about Moltmann. Also see the information at http://rosemarieberger.com/2010/01/26/jurgen-moltmann-no-where-else-in-christianity-does-the-terrible-or-heroic-name-of-armageddon-play-such-role-as-in-america/
Copyright 2019 The Rev John C Carr, ThM, PhD, DD
Minister-in-Association at Dayspring Church
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