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Sermon: Being Present with Hope

Hector Garfias-Toledo + November 26, 2023

Pastor Hector's sermon for the First Sunday of Advent centers on the significance of staying awake amidst adversity, as he draws parallels between the struggles of the Israelites and our own yearnings for hope and liberation. Emphasizing that hope is an active force, he challenges us to reject societal pressures, embody the promise of God's love, and actively engage in bringing forth real change and healing for all.



Lightly edited for grammar and clarity.

Now, let me start with grace to you and peace from God our Father, our Mother, our Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ who is Our Savior and Lord. And we say: Amen.

Well, it seems like the entire congregation knows that I don't like banana bread with milk chocolate chip cookies. Okay, so let's begin this morning.

Let me ask you just a question or let me start by saying, staying awake.

Staying awake. Have you tried, have you tried in church? Well, what do we do to stay awake? Anyone who wants to venture to say what you do when you want to stay awake? Drink coffee, coffee, coffee. That's a good way. Any other way? Exercise? Banana bread? No, I don't know that that won't keep me awake. Well, let me say this, that there was a study in the 1960s, I believe, and they discovered, for how long a person can stay awake and what they discovered was that a person could stay awake - in this study, I mean this was purposely done - this person was able to stay awake for about 11 days. I didn't read the rest of the article because I felt tired just by listening. That person was awake for about 265 hours.

But the truth is, and I don't know if it is only me, but every year it's harder to stay awake. And I don't know if it happens to you, but it's even harder to stay awake on an afternoon watching a movie. And then you realize that you saw the beginning and the end only. I don't know why that is happening again. I don't know if it's only me, maybe some of you experienced the same thing, you can tell me later.

Staying awake, these are the words that we heard today in the gospel. And in order to understand the gospel, we need to remember and keep in mind that as Colleen was reading, the Israelites were the people who were going through sorrow and suffering. They were waiting, they were waiting to be rescued by a Messiah. They were yearning because life and the circumstances in which they were living were pulling them, pushing them, crushing them, and they felt that their lives were basically sucked out of them. And to be honest, there are times in our lives when you and I feel that way.

As we heard earlier today with the young worshippers, with Pastor Jenna reminding us, this is the beginning of a new year that begins with the season of Advent. Advent is the season when we remember the arrival of the new order that God is bringing into this world. The Fulfillment of God's promise, a time to look ahead, a time to stay awake, a time to wait as the slow arrival of comfort fully comes and embraces us and surrounds us again.

The gospel tells us about the Lord Jesus addressing this question. And I invite you to read chapter 13 of The Gospel According to Mark, which is the gospel that we will be using for the year, this year B that we begin, as we will be reflecting in the story of the Gospel, in the Gospel According to Mark. But in Chapter 13, if you read chapter 13, you will notice that at the beginning of the chapter, the disciples and the Lord Jesus Christ enter Jerusalem. And when they see the temple, what is the reaction of the disciples when they see this majestic temple? They were amazed by the stones, by the structure, by everything that they can see, the architecture. And they are talking about the biggest stones that form it. Then Jesus says, "Well, you like them very much but guess what, one of these days all these will be down and there will not be a stone above a stone because everything will be destroyed." And then the disciples say, "But Jesus, when is this going to happen?" And then the Lord Jesus goes through a list of things that are going to happen and he says at the end, he says, "Well, there is going to be a lot of suffering. The sun is not going to shine anymore. It will be darkened. The moon will be covered by clouds or will be shining. The stars will be falling from the sky. The heavens will be shaken. And then is when the Son of Man will come with all his glory and will pick up all the people elected, as we read early this today.

What do you do when you hear that? Maybe the question is, and where is Hope in all of this? What do we do with this? How do we answer this? What did Jesus mean by saying keep alert, stay awake, stay at your post, or keep the watch?

I believe that the Lord Jesus comes and reminds the disciples and reminds us today and comes to lead us away from the suffering and the wishful thinking that sometimes we get into. Actually, the word hope sometimes I believe that has lost its meaning because we say for anything, "I hope that something is going to happen," or "I hope that things are going to be nice and better today." But I think that there is a deeper meaning that the Lord Jesus Christ is teaching us with these words that he offers us. If you go to the beginning of the Gospel According to Mark, chapter 1, verse 15, you will see that the Lord Jesus Christ began his ministry by saying - this is the message version of the scripture - "Time's up, God's kingdom is here, change your life." In other words, "repent and believe, give the message the good news." Advent is God's reign coming to be palpable and tangible for us. It is God made flesh in the Incarnation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hope, the message of Advent, is not just our ability or our lack of ability to understand, but it is our willingness and the courage to embrace the message of the good news that the Lord Jesus Christ is bringing to us. The Lord Jesus says it: the kingdom of God, the reign of God, is as real as a fig tree's branches become tender and put forth leaves, as real as this experience that you have in your life. This is how real the reign of God is among you, is at hand, is among you, is in you.

So as I was reflecting on how Hope plays in this announcement, this proclamation of the reign of God being among us and surrounding us, what is Hope in the midst of all of this? I believe that there are three things that are important to understand about hope. Hope is a driving force. Hope is assurance. And hope is active, not passive. So let me just say a little bit of each one of these. Hope is a driving force because this hope begets the will to live and not to survive. We are created to have a full life, not to survive.

We are not here to survive by relying on wishful thinking that things are going to be okay, that for some reasons things are going to get better by themselves. Who knows when and how? Who knows how? Hope is a driving force that finds its source in the promise of the love of God in the creative word of God that says all is good and you are called to be fruitful and to multiply. It moves us to be actively seeking, joining God's intention for creation, that is fruitfulness.

Hope is assurance. God's reign is unfolding right now in you, in me, through you, through me. You and I are assured that God didn't create us for nothing, nothing. And second, that the Lord Jesus Christ didn't come to the world as God incarnate so that things would continue the same. There is the assurance that liberation, freedom, salvation, wholeness is real.

Hope is active, it is not passive. I have mentioned this before, but there are some words that are attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that said that hope has two beautiful daughters: one is anger and one is courage. Anger at how things are right now and courage, it is the willingness to do something about it. So hope is not this feeling, this wishful thinking that things are going to get better for some reason. Hope is an invitation for us to be involved in what God is already working in the world so that the actions, the words, the connections, the relationships that happen in us living out the promise of God of wholeness and shalom will be the testimony and the witness that will give the people who may be in different circumstances the hope that things are changing because people are responding to the call of the Lord Jesus Christ.

See the difference? I can sit here and say, "I hope that the people who are there in the call right now, they will find a place." There is a difference when I say, "Because God incarnate to become one of us, to experience what we experience in our lives, and I am going to let this driving force and this assurance to make me move and be active in a way that my actions will provide the hope to this person that things are changing and they are not going to stay the same." See the connection?

Living through the great awaiting, my sisters and my brothers and siblings in Christ, what does it mean for us to keep alert, to stay at our post, to keep watch? As I said earlier, we are pulled, we are pushed, we are crushed. And I believe that the Lord Jesus Christ is inviting us with these words to not fall for the hypnotizing, lullaby eyes of the powers of the world, almost like the mermaids, you know the story of the mermaids. What did they do? They sang, the sailors heard, they were hypnotized, they drove their ships into the rocks, they died. The Lord Jesus Christ, when he says stay awake, watch, is maybe, I believe, saying do not allow the forces of the world to hypnotize you and to lead you to death. Our call is to stay awake, to watch, to refuse and to reject the luring, lullaby eyes, the enchanting voices of power, control, self-righteousness, domination, pride, hate, exceptionalism, war, discouragement, despair, shame, paternalism, and hopelessness.

Advent is about liberation. It is a radical disrupt message, which is also comforting and a source of life. It confronts the world to see the need of a savior, a liberator who heals us, saves us, restores us, and in many cases from our own selves, in order that you and I may be made whole and that you and I may find life. Why the world socioeconomic and political systems manipulate us to make us believe that you and I are to survive in this world and that hope is only this wishing, this wishful thinking that things are going to get better? Jesus tells us the good news that the reign of God is unfolding inexorably throughout history, moving toward the fulfillment of God's purpose for all creation, for all peoples. And second, that the faith of Jesus given to us is not a way to escape out of history but faith leads us to see the joy and the sadness, the love and the pain, the evil and the good, the brokenness and the wholeness, and to move us to join God's work, to make hope as liberation real for all people.

So when we gather today, when the spirit gathers us as Church in this place, we gather here to reflect and maybe to ask the questions: what message does Advent bring to us and for the world? If there is so much uncertainty and violence out there and we do not know the time and the hour when all things are going to happen, what does it mean for us as congregation Trinity Lutheran Church and schools that we committed and recommitted to generosity for the rest of the life of this ministry? What does it mean for us that you and I continue to celebrate passing on the faith through baptisms or affirmations of faith? What does it mean for us that we continue building a new roof on top of this building? What does it mean for us to continue to serve? Does it matter? And if does, how and why?

Later today, in a few minutes, we will hear from our sisters Lisa and Raina and Chris about the cold weather shelter actions that give hope to people that remind them that it's not just a wishful thinking that things are going to get better for them. Hope has something they can experience in their lives because hope, in the way that is understood sometimes, is not going to provide a warm place or food, but if hope is lived out and we allow this driving force, the assurance of God, and make it an active verb in our lives through the work of this ministry, others will experience the real hope of the wholeness and the healing that God offers to all. And you and I are part of that.

Yes, darkness surrounds us, but even though we walk in the darkness, darkness does not prevent the unfolding reign of God to unfold us, to fill us, and to be the channels of God's presence for one another. Justice, reconciliation, liberation, beauty, and wholeness, all the stuff that leads to true human flourishing and fruitfulness, that is the true gift of hope. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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