It was thirty or forty years ago now this story of a young couple took place. At the end of their first date, a young man had brought the girl home. They had had a great time together and he felt emboldened by how well things had gone and he decided to try for that important first kiss. He had been thinking about this kiss for a long time now hoping and waiting for this opportunity. In order to hide his nervousness he put on an air of confidence, and as he leaned with his hand against the wall he said to her, “Alice, how about a goodnight kiss?”
She was horrified, she replied, “Are you crazy? My parents will see us!”
“Oh come on!” he says, “Who’s going see us at this hour?”
“No, please,” she says, “Can you imagine if we get caught?”
“Oh come on,” he persisted, “there’s nobody around, they’re all sleeping!”
“No way,” she says, “It’s just too risky!”
“Oh please,” he continues, “please, I like you so much!”
“No, no, and no. I like you too, but I just can’t!”
“Oh yes you can. Please?”
“No, no. I just can’t.”
“Pleeeeease?” Suddenly to the utter surprise of both them, the porch light went on, and the girl’s little sister showed up in her pajamas, hair disheveled. In a sleepy voice the sister says: “Dad says to go ahead and give him a kiss. Or I can do it. Or if need be, he’ll come down himself and do it. But for crying out loud tell him to take his hand off the intercom button!”
Hope, he was just hoping for a kiss. Hope is one of the most powerful words in the English language. It evokes thoughts of sunrises that push back all kinds of darkness. Hope suggests promise and possibility and expectation. Hope makes us able to keep on going, or if we have fallen to get up and try again. Hope is a gift that our faith gives us to meet the need of our hungry and weary hearts. Hope is one the three primary strands of our Christianity, faith, hope, and love, these three compose the essence of our Christianity. So what is our Christian hope all about?
Isaiah alludes to it in the passage we heard from him. “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” It looks like the stump is just a stump. It looks as though the tree is dead. But all of the sudden life appears. The prophet says that although it appears the line and lineage of David’s proud heritage has been finished, God says it will rise again. And when it does the entire world will be remade! In the epistle reading we hear from Paul, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” Then later he quotes from the prophets and says “Rejoice O Gentiles with his people because the root of Jesse shall come, in him the Gentiles shall hope.” Who is this “root’? It is Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ. And then we come to the gospel reading and we meet John the Baptizer. Now is he an odd fellow or what? He comes dressed in camel skins with a leather belt. He looks like a cave man. He eats bugs and endures bee stings to snag wild honey from the hives. He is not only odd but he is so odd he is fascinating. He really doesn’t belong in the Old Testament nor does he belong in the New Testament. We don’t see John on any Christmas cards; we don’t see much of him on Advent calendars or in Advent celebrations. And yet he is central to the Advent season. When the Christians organized the Scriptures they changed the order of the Old Testament books so that they end with the book of Malachi. The Jewish Scripture order ends not with Malachi but ends with the books of the Chronicles. The reason Christians did that is because the last chapter of Malachi ends with these sentences, “Behold I will you send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” And even though the Jewish Scriptures do not end with Malachi the Jews were certainly very familiar with the book. And so when John the Baptizer came on the scene dressed like Elijah the prophet and preaching that the Messiah was coming very soon and the end of this age was about to happen, people were very stirred up. The text says people flocked to hear him and to be baptized by him. They came from Jerusalem and Judea and from the regions around the Jordan River. The Jews of his day may not have been sure what to make of him but he was passionate and his message was compelling.
The Messiah was coming. The kingdom of God almost here; it is just around the corner! For the Jews the kingdom of heaven is where God is ruling and God is. So therefore if God’s kingdom is coming to earth that means God himself is coming to earth. He would be here with us again just like he was in the Garden of Eden. And His arrival is just around the corner. And the righteous Jews knew that when God arrived all our longings would be satisfied. God would bring his people peace; he would establish justice and equity. God would remove wickedness and suffering from the earth. God would vindicate his people. So understanding this you can see why John’s message was one of hope.
And Jesus did arrive. He was Emmanuel, God with us. As we look at the passage from Isaiah in our readings today, we see how Jesus fulfilled parts of it. He was that branch from the stump of Jesse. The Spirit of the Lord did rest upon him. He had a spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel and might. Righteousness was the belt around his waist. And yet there are still portions of this prophecy that remain unfulfilled. He did not destroy all the wicked. He did not establish justice and equity and remove all suffering. Small children cannot play around dangerous animals. The wolf does not live with the lamb. No, God’s kingdom is not yet completely established on this earth. There is an already and not yet aspect to God’s kingdom. The already part is that Jesus has come and has given us the Holy Spirit and given us new life so that we can be born again into the people of God, children of God.
And so for what are we hoping now? We have the Holy Spirit with God’s presence in our hearts. We have the family of God with us. Yet, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us, even though we have each other we still have an ache in our hearts as we look around at all the problems and evil and suffering in our world and in our own lives. When our hearts are aching, like the Jews of John’s day we long for the coming of Emmanuel. We have Advent songs that echo this longing, O Come oh Come Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. We desire to see Jesus with our own eyes. We desire to hear him speak with our own ears. We desire to be in his physical presence. And we yearn for his complete establishment of his kingdom where evil and sadness and hurt are all put away. That is why the reading from Romans concludes with “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Christian hope is our yearning and expectation of the return of Jesus and the establishment of his kingdom here on earth. Christian hope is not an empty and shallow wish, like I hope we have good weather today or like the young fellow who was simply hoping for a goodnight kiss. Our Christian hope is not a feeling that will leave us depressed or frustrated. No, our Christian hope fills us with joy and peace because we know Christ will return. We know our faith and way of life will be vindicated. We know that God’s kingdom will be completely and firmly established. And we know that sorrow and sin and death will finally be put away forever. And it is this hope, this expectation that gives us the strength and courage to pursue living our Christian life showing the world what God’s new humanity, new creation looks like; so as we strive at becoming better Christians, more loving, kinder, more patient, more giving, we do these things with the hope and expectation in our hearts that Jesus Christ will return soon. Amen