The Demands of Hope
November 27, 2022*
(1st Sunday of Advent)
By Pastor John Partridge
Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44 Romans 13:11-14
When we read from the books of the prophets, we often mislead ourselves into believing that God’s prophets were important, or powerful, and even well liked during their lifetimes, but often, the experience of God’s prophets was just the opposite. Often the words that they carried were messages of God’s displeasure, news of punishment, impending disaster, doom, and death. And as a result, the prophets of God were often disliked, unwelcome, beaten, imprisoned, or banned entirely from the temple or from the king’s palace. In 1 Kings 18:16-18, Ahab the king of Israel went to meet Elijah on Mount Carmel and “when he saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?””
But sometimes the messages of the prophets held good news. Sometimes their messages contained guidance, blessings, and hope. And as we begin this season of Advent, those are the messages that we find as we read from Isaiah 2:1-5 that says:
2:1 This is what Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.
The message of Isaiah is a message of hope. God says that there will be a day when God’s people are not afraid to hear his words, a day when they will seek him out, listen to his voice, learn from him, and accept his judgements. And in that day, wars will end, soldiers will come home, and the world will at, last, know peace.
But God’s promise from Isaiah comes to us from almost three thousand years ago. Since then, we have seen the coming of Jesus Christ, but our modern world is still far too familiar with suffering, pain, disease, disaster, and death. God’s people, from that time until now, have asked the same question, “When?” When will Jesus return? When will we see the end of famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war? When, O Lord, will we see the peace that you have promised?
And the answer to those questions is the same today as it has been from the time that Jesus’ own disciples asked the same question in Matthew 24:36-44. And Jesus said:
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
The simple answer to the question of ‘when’ is “We don’t know.” But what we do know is that the arrival of Jesus in at the second coming will look much as it did at the time of his birth in Bethlehem. Even though his coming was repeatedly foretold by God’s prophets through the ages, and even though the people of Israel were intimately familiar with those scriptures, and even clung to the promise of those words, no one was ready. Almost no one was watching for his arrival and, although there were some, few people recognized the birth of Jesus for what it was.
And the warning of Jesus is that when he returns, things are likely to be similar. No one will know when he will arrive but because his arrival will be so unexpected, like a thief in the night, we must live expectantly. We must keep watch and live as if he might return any time at all, even today. But in Romans 13:11-14, Paul explains that living expectantly demands more of us than just keeping watch saying…
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
As his followers, hope demands that we do more than just wait and watch for the return of Jesus Christ. The time has already come for us to get busy with our preparations for his return because the world is already two thousand years closer to his return than it was in the time of Paul. But how do we prepare? What is it that we should be doing? And Paul’s words still ring true with us today. Setting aside the deeds of darkness means we should not just stop doing evil, but also stop encouraging and supporting the people that do.
That means that we should stop doing evil but should also stop doing things that are morally and ethically questionable, or that otherwise can be found in the grey areas of ethics and morality. Stop watching television shows, going to plays, and paying to see movies, which glamorize immorality regardless of how popular and funny they might be. Stop rationalizing your behavior by saying that it’s just a little harmless entertainment. Stop supporting politicians that do a few good things, but live as if morality isn’t important.
Instead, live lives that are good, decent, ethical, and moral. Be known withing your profession as someone who won’t cut corners, or behave immorally or unethically, even if doing so costs you something. Don’t go places and do things just because they feel good, do things, and go places that are good. Rather than just waiting and hoping for Jesus to do it, we should work to end famine, disease, violence, pestilence, and war. As you make your everyday choices of how to live your life, where to spend your money, and how to spend your time, consider whether you would invite Jesus to go to those places, and do those things with you. If you would feel uncomfortable going to that place, or watching that movie, doing that thing, or making that decision with Jesus standing next to you, then don’t do it. Clothe yourself with Jesus Christ and live as if he was walking beside you in everything that you do.
Because he is.
God’s message of the promised messiah, given through his prophet Isaiah, is a message of hope.
Knowing that Jesus could return at any moment, fills us with hope.
But hope demands something from us.
If we have this hope, if we believe that these words are true, then we must live lives of expectation.
And doing that will change the way that we work, the way that we play, the way that we spend our time, and the way that we spend our money.
If our hope is real, then we must live our lives as if it is.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™