I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. Amen.
In the name of Jesus, dear fellow hopeful people of God:
Hope, what is it? Most times, to our ears, it sounds so wishy-washy. It seems so uncertain. While that is true of most things, it is not true about hope placed in God. Hope in God is sure. This hope is confident. This hope is certain. Hope in God is all of these things because God is faithful. Hope is all of these things because God always keeps his Word. In the verses before us this morning, when Paul uses the word “hope” he means, “sure and certain confidence.” This is no “I hope it doesn’t rain.” This is “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5). Hope as it is used here is really a synonym for faith in the sense of trust or confidence. So when we are urged to live in hope, we are urged to live confident in God and his Word. That is the focus of the season of Advent. That is why we use blue paraments during this season – blue symbolizes hope. Today we are appropriately urged: Live in hope!
Live in hope encouraged by the Scriptures! This too is an important focus during the season of Advent. For we are now celebrating the coming of Christ. We celebrate his coming in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies as the Savior of the world. We focus on how he comes to us now through Word and sacrament. We look forward to his return at the end of time. As we do all this celebrating, focusing, and looking forward we need encouragement to keep going. We find that encouragement in the Word of Christ.
The Word is all about Christ. Yes, as Christ himself stated, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me …” (John 5:39). The Word is all about Christ, our Savior. These words of Scripture not only testify about Christ so that we may know him, they also work faith in our hearts. As Paul testifies in Romans 10:17, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Yes, the Spirit works through the Word to cause us to put our trust or our confidence in Christ. The Scriptures make us into God’s hopeful people. These same Scriptures work on our hearts to keep us connected to Christ. Yes, this is the encouragement we receive from Holy Scripture that fills our hearts with hope.
The Word fosters in us a sense of service. It creates unity between ourselves and fellow Christians. It changes our sinful attitudes. As far as living the life of a Christian, the Word does the work. The Word changes hearts. The Word calls us to repent. The Word focuses us on Christ. The Word fills us with love and moves us to reflect the love we have received to others. The bottom line is that when we try to hide from the Word we begin to walk down a road that leads to spiritual death. Avoiding the Word leads us to live without encouragement. Avoiding the Word leaves us open to Satan’s temptations and accusations. Avoiding the Word robs our hearts of the hope we have in Christ.
So the message the Spirit has for you today is use the Word, not only to receive encouragement for yourself, but also to encourage each other. Consider the Advent message of the Forerunner, John the Baptist. His message comes out clearly in today’s Gospel – “Repent, for the kingdom is near.” Let us call each other to repentance in preparation for Christ’s return! This not only entails pointing out sin, it also includes proclaiming forgiveness through Christ. We need to encourage each other to put our confidence in Christ and not in ourselves – this is the hope the Scriptures encourage in our hearts. Encouragement moves from repentance to re-invigoration to rejoicing. When we have repented of sin and heard the good news of Christ’s forgiveness, we are re-invigorated to live a godly life, and we are rejoicing in Christ’s love. May this Advent season cause us to be encouraged in Christian living this holiday season! Let us show the world that we are at peace with God in our loving and caring interaction with each other!
When John the Baptist was preaching repentance he also talked about living a life that reflected repentance. He put it this way, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Our hope is in the Lord and in his Word. We have confidence that in the babe of Bethlehem our sins are forgiven. In that same confidence we show our thankfulness to God. One of the fruits of faith that is produced in the life of God’s people is a sense of unity. Paul urges us, Live in hope united with brothers and sisters!
Stop to consider the merciful way in which Christ has accepted you as his own. You didn’t deserve this love, I didn’t deserve this love – all we had earned for ourselves was God’s eternal wrath and punishment. Yet, in his mercy God took pity on us. God sent his Son to pay for our sin and guilt. God saw to it that his gospel was proclaimed. God called you to faith. See all this for what it really is – You are loved by God! Those who are loved live a life of love. Our encouragement is to accept our brothers and sisters in Christ the same way that Christ has accepted us. Do not miss the fact that what you do for your neighbor – you do for Christ! When Jesus returns he will say to those who have trusted or hoped in him, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” This speaks volumes to us as God’s faithful people. Above all it reminds us to see Christ when we look at another human being. You need to see people with the cross of Christ on their foreheads and remember that each one of them is a soul for whom Christ died. Many times people, yes even fellow Christians, are difficult to deal with and hard to serve. But do not let their rough exterior deter you from serving them. For in serving them, you serve Christ. This is all about living in hope. It is living life totally convinced that Christ has secured heaven for you and confident that what you do in service to others is done for Christ.
The sure and certain hope we have in Christ moves us to work toward a common goal. We are indeed moved by God’s undeserved love for us. So we are encouraged today, as God spurs us on toward a oneness in faith and a oneness in action, May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to praise God. We are unified by Jesus to praise God. We are all one in Christ. He is the one great thing we have in common. We don’t all have the same jobs or the same hobbies or even the same viewpoints, but we do all have the same problem – sin and the same solution – Jesus. We are urged to overlook our differences in matters not judged by the Word of God and foster a family fellowship with each other. This is a way we show the hope that we have in Christ. Look around you. Take a moment to contemplate this truth – these people you see around you, these fellow believers in Christ are the same people you will spend eternity with – so let’s start to enjoy each other’s company now. Let us gladly get together to express our common hope in Christ. This will encourage us in our hope in the Lord and give glory to our gracious God. We are truly impressed with God’s grace and mercy because we are gentiles the very same ones Paul discusses in his quotes from the Old Testament which clearly demonstrate that Jesus came to save all people, including us. This makes us hopeful people indeed!
So we have hope in Christ. Paul expresses this hope in his closing blessing to this section of his letter to the Romans. Here he writes, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. So dear Christians, live in hope – today and always! Amen.