“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Luke 3:11)
We are now in the season of Advent, otherwise known as the season of hope. Hope is one of the three cardinal virtues of the Christian religion, along with “faith and love.” This is so because, as Paul says, these three virtues are inspired in us by the Holy Spirit.
When I was a young boy, growing up in North Dakota, hope was a very important part of my life. During the long cold winter, I did my best to adapt by engaging in winter activities such as ice skating. However, I longed for spring: warm weather, greening lawns, blooming flowers, baseball, and bike riding. Occasionally, in early spring, when bare patches of ground appeared as the snow melted, I would play on that patch of ground, pretending that the snow was all gone, and spring had arrived. Those patches of bare ground in the midst of the otherwise snow covered land were signs of the coming spring, and as I played on those areas, I was nourishing my hope for the joys to come.
As Christians, we too are called to live in hope. There are times when this is difficult. When I visited my 92 year old mother last week, she had just lived through a series of distressing events and this resulted in the feeling that hope was a bye gone thing. There was nothing present in her life at that time that inspired hope in her heart.
I decided to divert her attention away from the causes of distress that existed in the present, and refocus her mind to what was on the horizon: to something in the near future that would give her joy.
“The weak after next, you will be in the company of your son, his wife their three grown children, their wives, and your four great grandchildren. It looks like it will be a very festive and joyful Thanksgiving feast with most of your family, especially the little ones who bring you so much happiness.” Her smile returned as we talked about this family gathering which was just on the horizon.
This illustrates how and why hope is so important in the Christian faith. John the Baptist was a messenger for the source of that hope, just us I served as a messenger of hope for my mother. He pointed out to all who came to him what they in fact already knew. Their lives in the present held out no hope for them. They were stuck in lives of sin. While they were under the control of a foreign power, they were also alienated from God, and their sacrifices and rituals seemed to be leading nowhere. The present was grim and filled with darkness and they needed a message of hope: a message that assured them the future would be different.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” proclaimed the Baptist. “You can prepare for the coming redemption by turning away from the old patterns of behavior that are causing guilt, shame, and hopelessness. For One is coming, and He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit who brings new life, the redemptive love of God, and forgiveness.”
This message meant that they could be freed of the present darkness, and they could instead live in hope, for their God was coming in Jesus Christ to create a whole new life for them.
In the Christian faith, hope comes from faith in God’s promises for the present and the future. While life in this world, with its fears, anxieties, and troubles will sometimes make living in hope a struggle, God has given us his word of promise, and the Christian community, where we can hear and share that word each and every week. These are the signs of God’s coming kingdom. We need these signs, worship, study, devotions, Christian fellowships, and prayer to be preserved in hope for the redemption that is even now just on the horizon. There will be times of darkness. But just as those bare patches in the middle of a snowy yard inspired hope for the coming of spring: just so, the signs of God’s Kingdom here at Hope Lutheran Church will inspire hope for the coming redemption. At that time, all darkness will scatter in the face of the brightness of the light of Jesus Christ.
God of Hope, we thank you for giving us the signs of your coming kingdom in our congregational life. Use them to preserve us in hope for the glories of your coming kingdom.