Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-14
Today is the second Sunday of Advent and I will start this sermon with a true story. There is a book by Victor Frankl, who was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His book is entitled, “FROM DEATHCAMP TO EXISTENTIALISM,” and he tells of his life in the death camps and concentration camps of Germany during World War II. For those prisoners in those death camps, it was awful. Rats, freezing weather and freezing rain, and freezing fingers and freezing toes, freezing warehouses and freezing outhouses, and beatings from the guards. The only hope for the prisoners, according to Frankl, was for the Allied forces to come and set them free. And for some unknown reason, that hope became connected with Christmas. The prisoners in one particular camp started to believe that freedom was going to come on Christmas. And so these prisoners clung to life. They struggled with their freezing feet and freezing toes and freezing hands. They struggled with their frost bitten bodies. Why? Because they had hope. Thank God, they had hope. They were waiting for Christmas. They were waiting for freedom. They were waiting for release. And finally, Christmas Day came. And Christmas Day went. There were no Allies. There was no release. There was no freedom. And there was no hope fulfilled. Immediately, on the days afterwards, before the New Year came around, slowly, one at a time, there was first one suicide. Then two suicides. Then three suicides. Pretty soon, people were sleeping through meals and sleeping through exercises and many people were slipping into their deaths. And by New Year’s Eve, many from this camp had died. Six months later, when the Allied forces finally did come to bring freedom to this concentration camp, half of the prisoners had died. Most of them died during that Christmas season, after Christmas Day. Many of them died because of the loss of hope. They gave up too soon.
Last Sunday’s sermon was about waiting in joyful hope. The theme of this Sunday’s sermon is also about hope. Advent is a season to hope for peace, love, comfort, or something like that in our lives. It is a season to fill ourselves with a hope from God who is the source of hope. However, these days, many say that we might find ourselves ashamed at how small our hopes are. Our hopes tend to be small. What about you? Do you hope big or small?
I believe that each of us has one’s own hope based on life situations. I, as a pastor, also have a simple but big hope to lead our church for 2014 so that we can serve our neighbors and spread Good news from God. So, outreach committee will have a very important role in doing this mission next year. God will support and guide us for the missions in which we will engage. My hope is that everyone prays and supports together. 2014 is coming soon. For 2014, I will do my best to organize our church missions for this goal.
What kinds of hope do you have? Today, we will take a look at the Scripture and examine our hope before God. Biblically speaking, we could say that hope is “Paul’s favorite word.” Used only three times in all of the gospels, Paul uses the word 14 times in his letter to the Romans alone. Hope is one of the most important qualities in our faith journey. It always says to us, “Don’t give up too soon, but continue to hope for every good thing before God.”
This morning, we read Romans 15, which is part of the climax of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This passage begins and ends with hope, and it says the character of God is the basis for that hope. In v. 4, “steadfastness and the encouragement of the scriptures” is the source of hope. In v. 5, “the God of steadfastness and encouragement,” to whom scripture witnesses, gives hope. In v. 12 the Gentiles hope in the Messiah and in v. 13, the final and familiar blessing sums up the passage, and indeed, the letter as a whole: “May 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.”
Here is Dante’s understanding about hope. You might have read Dante in high school or college. In the book, the sign above the entrance to Dante’s hell says, “Abandon hope all you who enter here.” For Dante, hell is a place with no hope. To enter hell is to give up hope.
Let’s go back to the beginning story. The people at the death camp had hope that freedom was going to come on Christmas. They could stand their freezing feet, toes, and hands. They could overcome their fears at the death camp. However, many of them ended up dying and some of them committed suicide. Why? Because after Christmas, they gave up the hope that allied forces would come and set them free. They could stand all of the challenges in their lives because of the hope. But when they lost the hope, they experienced hell on earth.
This morning, St. Paul proclaims to us “May the God of hope give you joy and peace in believing that you will be filled with hope, that you will be abounding with hope, and that you will be overflowing with hope for the future.”
What do these words mean for you? What does it mean for you to be abounding in hope? In the Book of Hebrews, we hear God’s Word which says, “With strong encouragement, seize the hope set before us.” In First Peter, God says, “We have been born to a new and living hope through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hope in the Bible means to trust that God’s future is for us. Faith means to trust in God in the here and now; but hope means to trust in God’s future. To realize that God is in control of all future history and is in control of our personal history. To realize that God will not desert us in the decades and the centuries ahead of us. That is, no matter what happens in our lives, our future belongs to God.
We live in a season when the sign of God’s hope is the greatest. The coming of Jesus means the coming of hope. Not only is Jesus the prince of peace but also he is the prince of hope. Our hope is coming. Take a look at ourselves. Do we hope big enough to celebrate the coming of Jesus and to receive the power of hope from him? This season abounds with hope. We are filled with hope. We are overflowing with hope that the God, who has taken care of us in the past and today, will take care of us in the future, no matter what the future may bring.
Let me wrap up today’s sermon with a person who had a passionate hope for the future. Her name was Anne Sullivan. She had a driving hope that a young girl by the name of Helen Keller who was deaf and blind would be able to read, write and communicate. Anne Sullivan had a driving hope to teach this little girl, who was untrainable and undisciplined. Sullivan taught her to read, write and communicate. She did not give up hope. She didn’t quit. She didn’t give up hope and say, “This is an impossible job. This is an impossible task.” No, not at all. And now, Helen Keller has become indeed a legend.
What I am saying is that we Christians have a driving hope. We have a living hope. We have a hope for God’s reign of justice, love and peace for the earth. We also hope for God’s reign of justice, love and peace in this little personal world of ours.
I love what Soren Kirkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, said about hope. His definition of hope is “hope is the passion for the possible.”
When the God of hope lives inside of us, God gives us peace and joy in believing, and we abound in hope. We are filled with hope, we are overflowing with hope, and we are imbued with hope. We will experience our lives filled with a new hope from God.
Let us pray, Loving God, we give thanks to you for your Word. We believe that we are living with the hope that the Lord will come in peace. Now help us to prepare the way of the Lord and to make a room for God in this mysterious season. And bless us to enjoy this season within your love. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, we pray. Amen.