In my home office, I have a set of three bookcases. At the top of the middle case there is a piece of art placed between two candle sticks. The art is the word, “HOPE.” I received this piece of art when I was the district superintendent for the Metro Boston HOPE District. It now sits atop my shelf and catches my eye every so often. It is especially helpful on days when the clamor of conflicting voices within the conference or the denomination becomes a chorus of chaos.
My eyes gaze upward and see those four letters, H-O-P-E, and I remember. I remember that God is yet in control. I remember that trouble don’t last always. I remember that Christ can do exceedingly, abundantly more than I can ask or think. I remember that greater is he that is within me than he that is within the world. I remember...
The text comes from the apostle Paul, the persecutor turned prophetic pulpiteer who wrote or inspired most of the epistilatory letters in the New Testament. Some say the Book of Romans is Paul’s masterpiece. In the words of NT Wright, when it comes to the Book of Romans, “We are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.”
The Letter to the Romans — and we should remember that that is exactly what we have here and in all of the epistles; they were first letters written to address problems that were arising in the new communities of belief and fellowship — was not written as a theological treatise or historical writing. Again, in the words of Wright, “Every letter was at first a pastor-teacher’s written response to believers whose particular socio-historical circumstances provoked a spiritual crisis that requires theological explanation and practical solution.”
In other words, much like today, those who wrote these letters were addressing divisions, arguments, disagreements, prejudices, biases and frustrations. They were written to remind their intended audience of who and whose they were.
Paul penned Romans in the year 57 of the Common Era. The letter’s over-arching theme is God’s righteousness. In the face of injustice and persecution and exclusion and oppression, this letter was written to offer encouragement, a reminder of the covenantal promises of God and to give hope.
Paul needed to remind the church in Rome that, “The covenant between God and Israel was established to deal with the problem of the world as a whole. It was established so that YHWH could rescue creation from evil, corruption, disintegration and, in particular, from sin and death.”
At a time when the church was being persecuted and Jews and Gentiles were turning against one another instead of standing with one another, Paul wrote to remind them of the promises made to their forefathers, and therefore to them. Paul reminded them that the Prophet Isaiah preached of the coming One, the One in whom all, including the Gentiles, should hope. He concluded this refresher course with this prayer, “May the God of all hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
During this season of Advent, this time of anticipatory waiting and contemplative prayer, we are called to remember the Advent of Christ breaking into the world, the word made flesh, dwelling among us. In our own times of division and partisan politics and the glorification of money and power and self, we are called to remember who and whose we are.
YHWH, Elohim, Jehovah Jireh, The Great I Am, this God Almighty has promised to be with us, and more so, to triumph over evil with justice; to loose shackles with liberation and to care for all of creation. The Rock of our Salvation remains faithful to us. God moving creation to full restoration and reconciliation. We do not need to wait for another, hope for another, turn to another or go in search of another. Everything we need and desire is found in the Root of Jesse and his name is Jesus.
And yet, even though we in the church today know of Christ’s breaking into our world, we so often struggle to see through the darkness. We struggle to hold on to our hope and maybe even our faith. We keep looking for a reason to hope, to believe. We keep thrashing around looking for answers to our current confusion.
As I ponder our search, I am reminded of the Patti LaBelle ballad, "You Are My Friend." In the chorus of that tune, Patti sings, “I’ve been looking around and you were here all the time!” Beloved, as we in this country and this denomination look around for an answer, the answer has been here all the time.
We’ve been looking for peace, and peace is found in Christ. We’ve been looking for liberation, and liberation is found in Christ. We’ve been looking for reconciliation, and re- conciliation is found in Christ. We’ve been looking around for someone else to save us, but salvation has never left us. If those who claim Christ would live as Christ lived, humbly, in constant prayer and obedience to God, never seeking anything for themselves but living that others might have more, loving without partiality and advocating for those unable to speak for themselves, if we would live in this way, peace would abound.
As we wait, we do not wait as those without purpose. We wait with purpose and intention. We wait as those called to serve. And, as we wait, we know there is more to come. We know that Christ will come again with final victory and we will all feast at his heavenly banquet. That gives us hope, unbounded hope in the preferred future for God’s creation.
As we wait, may we reduce our use of plastics and our carbon footprint. As we wait, may we seek out the homeless in our communities and build relationships. As we wait, may we adopt a classroom and walk alongside the staff to provide resources and hands-on assistance. As we wait, may the Word of God be as fire shut up in our bones, so that its energy propels us into action. And then through us the world will see Christ, and in Christ the world will find hope.