A Future with Hope

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” — Jeremiah 29:11

Jeremiah 29:11

 Jeremiah is writing to the people of Judah who were living in exile in Babylon. The prophetic word promising “a future with hope” is not just a general assurance that God always has benevolent plans for our future; rather, it is a specific promise to a suffering community that their prayers will be heard and that God will bring them back from their place of exile.

But when Christians read these words during Advent, we hear them also addressed to us. We stand in solidarity with Israel’s suffering, and we see our own longing for deliverance as standing figuratively in continuity with Israel’s longing and hope. Like the people of Judah in Babylon, we are called to “seek the welfare of the city” where we find ourselves in exile (vs. 5-7)-that is,to settle in and live faithfully and constructively wherever God may have placed us. At the same time, we are also called to seek the Lord with all our heart (vs. 12-14), never confusing Babylon with the land of promise. We are always to keep hoping that God’s kingdom will come and make all things right.

 Thus, Advent is a time of seeking and hoping. In this season, through faithful endurance and through the encouragement of the scriptures, we indeed find hope (Rom 15:4) as we await the coming of the Messiah.

Richard B. Hays
Dean and George Washington Ivey Professor of New Testament

November 28, 2010 • First Sunday in Advent 

Romans 13:11-14

This passage begins: “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Paul has just reminded his readers that “love is the fulfilling of the law,” and here he ends this chapter on “governing authorities” with a clean jolt of sobriety. “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” We, his readers, are to rouse ourselves and “put on the armor of light.” The coming that is Advent is a yearly repetition of the brisk Light that enables our love.

I generally loathe shopping malls, particularly during the “holiday season,” yet I am a sucker for cheesy Christmas carols. Each year, I am struck that even the trace remnants of the Light carried in mall muzak testify to the truth. And somehow, even we the people, searching for a trinket to share, appear, somehow, more magical, more brave, more gifted with an “armor of light.”

 This little chapter, written to the Christians of Rome, concerns, in part, the repeatedly necessary moment of waking to the Light and walking, gifted in the day. And perhaps, even in the Empire, the “little toil of love” (to borrow from dear Emily Dickinson) is indeed large enough for us.

Amy Laura Hall
Associate Professor of Christian Ethics

December 5, 2010 • Second Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah here speaks what theologian Stephen Webb calls the poetry of the impossible, rather than the prose of the probable. The text is framed by images of God’s impossibilities. Isaiah’s proclamation begins: A green shoot of new life shall come forth from a dead, old stump-an impossible new beginning for the people of Israel (v. 1). And then toward the end, the prophet offers up disorienting images of peace, which interrupt “common sense” and envision an almost unimaginable future: “the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (v. 6). And then Isaiah proclaims the wildest vision of all: “they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (v. 9).

 The one who is coming-the one on whom the Spirit will rest, the one who will judge the poor with righteousness (vs. 2-5)-calls forth an impossible hope. Isaiah proclaims no small, personal savior who comes simply to enter human hearts. Rather, he announces one who comes to bring a new creation-one who comes to startle us out of our captivity to human probabilities and to awaken our imaginations to God’s impossibilities.Advent hope, Isaiah declares, is hope that is large enough and bold enough to stir us from complacency and claim our entire lives.

Charles L. Campbell
Professor of Homiletics

December 12, 2010 • Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 35:1-10

I have warm memories of receiving an Advent calendar each year from my oldest sister as I was growing up. With anticipation, I would open one calendar window each day to retrieve a prized piece of chocolate candy as I counted down to Christmas, not realizing that the true meaning of Advent is about two distinct events: the waiting done by the Hebrews anticipating the birth of Christ, and the waiting of Christians since that time for the second coming of Christ.

It is not the waiting that excites me, but rather the joy the redeemed in Christ will experience after he returns. After reading the 35th chapter of Isaiah, particularly beginning at the fourth verse, how can one not have hope for the future when Isaiah tells us to be strong and not fearful because our God will come to save us? My faith strengthens me because I know that I serve a risen Savior who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

If I apply the teachings of Isaiah to my Advent journey, my scriptural imagination informs me that I will “walk in that Way” (v. 8) with others who are redeemed (v. 9). And when the second Advent is upon us, that being the return of Christ, we “will enter Zion with singing … and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v. 10). My belief in Advent has secured hope and a future for me. I am glad it has for you, too.

Terri Dean
Senior Vice President (retired), Verizon
Vice-Chair, Divinity Board of Visitors
Philadelphia, Pa.

December 19, 2010 • Fourth Sunday in Advent

Romans 1:1-7

The word “advent” comes from the Latin adventus-"a coming” - which originally signified the arrival of winter. This year, winter arrives Dec. 21, just after the winter solstice, when the earth tilts farthest from the sun and we experience our longest night. Though we seldom connect advent and adventure, these words share the same Latin root. Adventure connotes not only the coming of an exciting experience, but an attendant sense of risk. Even as Paul reminds the Romans that they are “God’s beloved,” it is clear that to be “called to belong to Jesus Christ” is not without risk. Their hope, and their future, depends on the constancy of God’s love.

As we leave worship today, the glare of holiday glitz threatens to blind us to anything but buying and getting. Will we stumble ahead, obsessed with trivial pursuits? Or will we keep watch for God’s holy light, asking “Where have I seen Jesus the Christ? How can I honor the coming of Immanuel?”

The Advent wreath’s circle of light reminds us that even during our longest night God promises us hope and a future. Like Wendell Berry’s “day-blind stars waiting with their light,” God’s light is ever present, leading us to the gifts that feed our souls, urging us to risk setting them free to feed the world.

Elisabeth Stagg
Associate Director of Communications and Editor, Divinity magazine

December 24, 2010 • Christmas Eve

Titus 2:11-13

Economic uncertainty, political polarization, and unending war are among the realities contributing to widespread cynicism and gloom. “I'm not very optimistic,” I confessed to a friend. “Optimism has nothing to do with it,” he said. “We live by hope, not optimism; and hope is rooted in what God has done, is doing, and will do."

In the midst of widespread poverty, political and religious polarization, and military occupation, a child was born in a stable in the dark of night in a remote corner of the world. In Jesus Christ, God entered the world’s darkness and gloom and claimed all of life as the domain of the divine presence and the arena of God’s salvation. God inaugurated a new world, a world of compassion, justice, generosity, peace, and joy. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all . . .”In Jesus Christ, God won the decisive victory over the old world of injustice, oppression, sin, and despair.

Although darkness continues to cover the earth, we do not despair. We know that the light shines in the darkest nights, life emerges in the most barren places, and that the future belongs to “the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."

The appropriate response is to reorient our lives toward God’s future and “live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly” while we continue to wait for the final victory.

Bishop (Ret.) Kenneth Carder
Williams Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry

December 25, 2010 • Christmas Day

Isaiah 62:6-12

Today we celebrate. We exchange gifts, and as we do so we should rehearse the hope that even though we've overspent, under-planned, and rarely prayed, God has not reneged on the promise to set things right again.

The words recorded in Isaiah echo that promise of the prophet Jeremiah. Both these passages of Scripture are taken from the record of a displaced people who had almost forgotten they were God’s sign of a promise to the world. But the prophets’ assurances remind their weary listeners of this remarkable promise, and celebrating the birth of Christ today reminds us, that in Jesus, God has given a gift of hope.

Although weary with political posturing, economic crises, and disappointing relationships, we do well to remember we are never forsaken. We have God’s promise and in Christ we have become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Look at the refrigerator: not in it, at it. Posted on many refrigerators are pictures, notes, and announcements of something done in our world that we desire to remember.

God’s refrigerator is the world, originally created good. God has given the world the church to be a snapshot of God’s faithfulness. We who are the image bearers of Christ hang on God’s refrigerator. With childlike enthusiasm, we become sentinels to the world proclaiming the advent of future joy.

Celebrate today in a way that causes someone to remember that the gift of Jesus’ birth is a sign that we have not been forsaken.

Joy J. Moore
Associate Dean for Black Church Studies and Church Relations and Visiting Assistant Professor, Homiletics and the Practice of Ministry