Sunday, December 2, 2012

Expectant Hope

The Wicklow Gaol at Christmas!
This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent... Christmas is coming!

There is a cautious realism in Ireland.  I wanted to say optimism, but the reality is there is very little of that... and with good reason.  Austerity has it's grip on this republic.  They're talking about cutting another chunk from the national budget and we're not talking pennies.  They're talking billions of euros.  Businesses are wondering what will happen when even more money is taken from the pockets of those who frequent their shop.  Homeowners are wondering where the funds will come to pay the property tax on their home, a home for which they owe much more than it's worth.  Meanwhile mums and Dads are wondering how they'll manage Christmas with all the expectations.  I mean reason suggests somethings got to give.  We already pay 23% VAT(sales tax) and they're talking about adding other revenue streams because the coffers of the government are still empty.  The HSE (the government health service) is also having to cut services and increase costs. It seems the very vulnerable will be hit hardest... again!  Even pensioners, those on fixed incomes, are now on the governments radar.  I recently read in the Wicklow Times a plea to shop local... or risk having NO local shops in the new year... and this was no idle threat.  The white flag is being waved! What else can one do? 

All this reminds me of some words in the Old Testament by Jeremiah.  He finds himself in jail.  Why?  He was predicting doom for Israel.  Babylon had them surrounded, the city was under siege.  It wasn't a matter if Jerusalem would fall, it was simply a matter of when.  In truth they already had... their king was a puppet of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  It was a dark time.  People in the city were tearing down their homes to repair a wall that would NOT hold. The only thing that happened is more people died.  It was over... the axe was at the root of the tree, the light was being snuffed out.  The promises of God, it seemed, were forgotten, the future had been hijacked by the enemy and the present was no gift.

It's into this scene that we hear these words from the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 33... words that remind us of what I read in a post by James Petticrew... "God always has the last word."

14“ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

       15“ ‘In those days and at that time
       I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
       he will do what is just and right in the land.
       16In those days Judah will be saved
       and Jerusalem will live in safety.
       This is the name by which it will be called:
       The LORD Our Righteous Savior."

I wish we could really grasp these words in the light they were first proclaimed... or should I say the darkness.  There was no cause for optimism.  The light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming train.  It was OVER!  The fat lady had sung. There was NO future.... all they had was the past.

And yet into this darkness, Jeremiah, from a jail cell, speaks of days coming... as a good thing.  Just think about that! He speaks of God fulfilling HIS promise.  Notice... it reads HE will fulfill the good promise... HE will make a righteous branch sprout from that dead stump.  HE will do what is just and right.  This was not about the people.  It was not their works of righteousness.

Something else, nothing changed in the moment Jeremiah proclaimed these words.  He remained in jail.  The Babylonians still surrounded the city...in fact the people to whom Jeremiah proclaimed these words were still destined for Babylon and captivity... BUT everything changed.  Jeremiah proclaimed HOPE... not the hope that wishes for sunshine instead of rain, but rather the hope that recognizes that ALL is well, because God is God.  The hope that leans into a future that WILL be, again because God is God & Jesus is Lord.

As I walk the streets of Wicklow... my heart is heavy for people at the end of their rope, businesses who have no cash and moms and dads who wonder how they'll provide for their families this Christmas.  It would be easy to hopeless, but I was reminded in this advent text that there is HOPE... even in despair, even what Christmas light can't cover up the problems.  And this hope is not found in anything or anyone but Christ.  Circumstances may be grim, you might be surrounded, the circumstances you face may be awful... but we can still be people of Hope.

HOW?  Because hope is not dependent on our circumstance or ourselves, but rather on the character of God.

Erich Fischer, the pastor of Greystones Nazarene recently shared with me an expression that is used by some in Germany when speaking of someone who is pregnant.... "in guter Hoffnung"  Loosely translated it means to be in good hope.

May we this Christmas be in good hope... expecting!