Hope is a funny word.
It’s one of those words that depending on the context it could mean the opposite of what was intended.
Like the VCE student who “hopes” to get a good result in their exams – there is a degree of uncertainty not knowing what the result is going to be.
Or the person who lives in hope of winning the lottery one day – a day that may, or most likely will never come.
On the other hand we speak of the Christian hope of which there is absolute certainty of what we are hoping for.
As St Paul says – hope does not disappoint us.
The first Sunday of Advent always has a sense of fear about terrible things that are predicted for the future.
It speaks of: People will faint from fear of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
But the purpose of Advent is not to frighten you or make you worry but to bring you hope.
Jesus is alerting us that things will happen that will cause people to fear.
Even if you’re not a Christian you know that things in the world are not getting better.
Violence, crime, wars, global warming.
All these are signs that the world is in disarray.
Advent is about bringing hope in the midst of our fears;
And we need hope more than ever.
Because horrible things run non-stop through our news feeds creating fear.
Advent reminds us to keep focused on heavenly things that will last forever and not earthly things that will pass away.
The signs of disarray are a reminder that the world is not well.
But the disarray has a purpose to keep us putting our faith in God.
But if we focus on the terrible things without hope we can, as Jesus says, faint from fear.
Suffering has a hidden blessing.
Suffering is an indication that something is not right.
When you get a tooth ache it’s a message to you to go to the dentist and fix the problem.
If there was no pain you wouldn’t be aware that there was something wrong and more damage could occur.
So too the suffering in the world is a message from God to come to him for hope because there is something wrong with our world – we call it sin.
Jesus says: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.
We cannot ignore the things happening around us.
And even if life for a period of time is going okay something can happen to change all that.
And it’s when those problems happen that we feel helpless.
We begin to see what’s wrong with life and the world, what’s not right with our family and what’s not happening in the church.
All we see are the negatives and we respond with despair and hopelessness that things have become so bad.
Instead of dropping our heads with sorrow and defeat Jesus says – stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
Without hope people look for ways to escape through things that don’t provide any lasting comfort at all.
Jesus says be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.
I actually had no idea what the word “dissipation” meant but it means – overindulgence in sensual pleasures;
And as we look at our world today it explains a lot about how people, not just young people, escaping the worries of life through artificial means that don’t last and in fact sends them spiralling further downwards.
You see people partying, revelling, holidaying, seemingly without a worry in the world but inside are lonely and depressed.
If you’ve been watching the news you would have seen the revelling of young people away on schoolies.
And a new breed with them I saw – “moolies” mothers of schoolies who go along with them to, supposedly, look after them.
We feel the need to be in control of our life and to have our plans all worked out.
But we all know that there are times when things get out of our control and we are overwhelmed.
It’s in those times when we don’t give up – we don’t drop our heads in disbelief or regret, but lift our heads high and we look to God to remember that Jesus has promised to return and take us to be with him in Paradise.
We call this the 2nd Advent when Jesus returns in glory.
This is our Christian hope!
This is the confidence and certainty we have as Christians; that we have Jesus as our saviour.
This is what enables us to deal with everything that causes us to panic and create fear in us.
We have a saviour who loves us and will gather us together as his dear children.
No eternal harm will come to us even though heaven and earth are passing away because we are part of the new heaven and new earth.
We may face earthly harm at times, as did St Paul, and the other disciples – and also Jesus.
But Jesus shed his blood for us on the cross and paid the ultimate price for us.
He has conquered all evil and death so that in our last hour on earth we can rest in peace and confidence – our hope is in Jesus who has done everything for us.
And yet in spite of the hope that we have in Jesus the text today also reminds us that until he comes he wants us to keep working for the Kingdom.
Jesus said in this time of waiting to be alert at all times, praying;
And Paul also in our 2nd reading instructs us how to live our lives until then:
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another.
We fail often in our love.
As individuals and as a congregation this is our constant challenge.
To love others even more, even those with whom we have clashed;
Those who are unwilling to be loved;
How can we be the love of Christ to others?
This should be our constant prayer in these days before Christ returns – that we would continue to grow in love that knows no limits just as God has shown no limits in his love for us in Christ.
Only as we love others can we begin to understand that God loves us.
And in God’s love we are able to understand the hope we have in this life.
Our hope is not like worldly hope where many hope to win the lottery so they won’t have any money problems.
Because other problems will arise.
They will arise also for the Christian but as Christians we have hope that they are limited to this life only.
As children of God we have every reason to be filled with hope because of Jesus our Saviour.
When trouble and death come our way we will not be left feeling lost and alone – Jesus is the resurrection and the life and he will lead us through all these things safely.
And most importantly we will not be terrified when Christ returns and begins the Judgment because all our wrongs have been forgiven and forgotten by the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
“You will be free from all impurity and blame on the Day of Judgment”
And you will be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.
The return of Jesus is not something to fear unless you have rejected his offer of salvation.
But as Christians, we can stand up and be confident because we know our redemption is drawing near.
We can and will live in hope;
We will not fear when Jesus will come in glory to judge the living and the dead because of his grace.
The Last Judgment will put things right.
And Jesus will say to you, as he said to the thief on the cross:
“I forgive you. Welcome into paradise.”
So let us not be afraid.
Let us prepare to celebrate the birth of our Saviour who offers not fear but forgiveness.
Jesus, who offers not condemnation but life eternal.