Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Hope for 2016!

I can’t wait for 2015 to be over.
For me it has been a really dreadful year.
Filled with people I love dying, getting sick, and just all round bad news.
There were many times this year when my wife and I would look at each other and just say, “This is just an awful year.”
This doesn’t even account for all the bad news that we have heard about in the world, the shootings, the terror, the be-headings, the racism, the xenophobia, and the unpredictable weather.
I can’t remember a year that was worse.
I am looking forward to putting it behind me and moving on.
Perhaps you have had years like that filled with more bad then good.
Perhaps you have had days or months like that.
But here is the thing I am hopeful.
Despite what has happened in my life and in the world I am still hopeful.
I am hopeful for 2016.

Let me say that I am not sure that 2016 will actually be any better.
I am not sure that there will be any less death and sickness.
I am not sure that we will have any better news about things happening in the world.
But I know that in 2016 God will be in my life, God will be active in the world.
I believe in faith that God through death is always birthing new life.
And that is what gives me hope.
I believe in faith that even in 2015 God was at work in my life, in the world through all the bad.
And that is the good news that we experience at Christmas, that God is not detached from our lives.
God is not unconcerned about our struggles, our pain, our heartache, but is somehow using them to birth new things into being.

Consider our Gospel story for this morning.
It is of two women who are both struggling.
They are caught up in a story bigger than themselves.
They don’t know exactly how everything goes together, but in faith they have decided to trust God, because of that trust they hope that this is all part of God’s bigger plan.
Elizabeth who is old and thought it was impossible to have a child is chosen by God to give birth to the prophet John to prepare the way.
If any of you have known people in your lives of people that couldn’t have a child but wanted one, you will know of the sadness that comes with that fact.
You will have seen the pain it causes.
For years Elizabeth lives with that pain and loss.
And even now she probably doesn’t know exactly why this happening.
But she might have been the only one who took Mary’s pregnancy with such joy.
She might have been the only person in Mary’s life who said that this pregnancy was a “blessing”.
That was is so great about Luke’s telling of Jesus’ birth is that among these difficult time and circumstances God is doing a new thing.
And that is what hope is for us.
It is the ability to believe that God is at work even in the most trying and difficult of times.
It is to be able to sing Mary’s song no matter what is going on in the world and in our lives.
As Mary sings, “God has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

This year I sat in a pew at the Lutheran church in East Long Meadow.
I sat next to my friend and put my arm around him as he cried because his wife at the age of 37 had died.
We sang hymns, listened to stories about her, shared in the Lord’s meal, and heard the good news of God.
I don’t know if I can say I was hopeful on that day.
I was sad.
Even now I am trying to give it some meaning, some purpose.
I don’t know if I can.
However, I can tell you that in faith I believe that God will bring life from that death.
That is where my hope lies.
Not in my ability to understand why certain things happen.
Not in my ability to find deeper meaning in the events of the day.
Not in some happy pronouncement about finding a silver lining.
Not in optimism.
My hope lies in the God of Israel who remembers his promises and is with his people forever.

This year I sat in the Lutheran Church in Warwick Rhode Island.
My friend’s sister had lost her son who was only 2 years old.
It was actually the second child she has lost.
I sat in the back this time.
We sang songs, heard the good news of God through Jesus Christ, and heard stories about the 2 year old boy.
I am not sure I felt hopeful on that day.
I am not sure I have words to convey how any of it made sense.
I know I cannot tell you why.
But in faith I am hopeful.
Not because it makes sense.
Not because I believe in some grand plan, but because the God of Israel has sent his Son into the world.
The God of Israel chose an unmarried poor teenager who lived in the backwater no good for nothing town of Nazareth to give birth to the savior of the world.
The God of Israel is my strength in such times.

I could go on and tell you other stories like this about my year.
I will spare you those other stories.
Maybe you had some like these yourself.
Maybe you are trying to make sense of it all.
This morning I am not trying to make sense of it all.
I am here to tell you the good news.
The same good news I heard at all the funerals I went to this year.
It is the good news that keeps me going.
The good news that has me looking forward to 2016.
The good news that gives me hope when everything else in this world is going so bad.
It is the good news that we hear today.
That the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and Sarah, the mighty one whose mercy endures forever that God sent us Jesus Christ so we might know of God’s love and mercy.
God sent Jesus Christ so that we have hope.

I realize that my sermon this morning could sound kind of like a downer.
I am telling you all the things that went so wrong in 2015.
However, that is not what I want you to leave her this morning thinking.
I don’t want you to leave here thinking, wow pastor had a really bad year and he must be really sad.
That is not my intention.
I want you to leave here with hope.
Not optimism.
For me optimism means that I am pointing to something and saying, “this will get better, because ….”
Hope as a person of faith says, I believe that God is at work, even when I can’t see it, or don’t know why, or am devastated with sadness.
Even when there are no answers, and please don’t try to give me any, I am not looking for that.
I am saying that my hope doesn’t come from what is going on around me, it comes from God.
It comes from promises that God has made to us.
Because I don’t know what kind of year I will have in 2016.
I don’t know what kind of year you will have in 2016.
I know that God will be there through it all, and that is what gives me hope.

It is the same hope that gave Mary and Elisabeth the strength to believe God, even though they were struggling to understand it all.
It is the same hope that gave Elizabeth the insight to call Mary’s pregnancy a blessing when no one else would.
And it is the same hope that this year will be the year when our mighty God will look with favor on the lowliness of his servants.
And that our spirits will rejoice in God our savior.

This morning I want all of you to leave here and have hope, not because life is great, but because you know the God of Israel has mercy and has made promises to do great things for us.
May we leave here singing Mary’s song of blessing, and knowing of God’s love and mercy shown to us in Jesus Christ.
May we have hope in 2016.

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