Spring, Leap and Dance into God's Future Today

Sermon preached at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church
December 15, 2013 – Advent 3A
Isaiah 35:1-10, Matthew 11:2-11

Last Sunday we heard from the prophet Isaiah that “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.”[1] It was a passage filled with unlikely pairings that perhaps we can only imagine in the land of cartoons, digital animation, or, as I suggested last week, children’s artwork and imaginations. But just as we barely begin wrapping our minds around what it might be like to inhabit such a world, we come up to this week’s passage from Isaiah in which we are promised even more: “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped,” a time when “the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”[2]
In the season of Advent, we are invited to put on a Spirit of hopefulness, enthusiastic anticipation of a promised future. But, let’s face it, in light of seemingly over-the-top promises like Isaiah’s and in light of all that goes on in the world around us that Spirit of hopefulness can feel downright foolish if not fraudulent.  Earlier this week I was reading Peter Steinke’s book, A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope and came across an insightful distinction between dialectical thinking and ideological thinking. According to Steinke, an ideologue is one who reduces everything to opposites: “everything is reduced to here or there, this or that. There can be no ambiguity. Thus, in order to see light, the ideologist minimizes the moments of despair and erases the darkness.”[3]  This kind of thinking is an oversimplification of reality and can seem like a trivialization of the world around us.  And, you and I, when we hear such thinking, have an understandable tendency to stop listening.
Dialectical thinking, on the other hand, allows that the truth of the world may, in fact, be “expressed in opposites, two ideas that appear to cancel out each other.”  Steinke’s example is the Scriptural warrant that one must lose one’s life in order to find it and he writes, “In a broken world, hope and lament are partners. Hope does not need to silence the rumbling of crisis to be hope. . . .  Dialectical thinking allows one to hope in the darkness.”[4]  The hope of Advent is deeply grounded in the realities of our present condition. 
Some etymologists believe that the word hope comes from the Old English hoppian which means “to spring, leap, [or] dance.”[5]  Hope then is more than a feeling – it’s an action word; it is a word that asks something of us – something more than imagination; it asks us to give that feeling legs as we leap up, spring forward, and dance into a new way of being in the world.  Physicist and Anglican priest, JohnPolkinghorne, writes:
“hope is much more than a mood, it involves a commitment to action. Its moral character implies that what we hope for should be what we are prepared to work for and so bring about, as far as that power lies in us.”[6]
And perhaps we know this intuitively because it is especially during the Season of Advent when Christians – and others – “get busy.”  We step up our collections of food for the hungry, our gathering of clothing for the poor. We bring cookies and flowers with us when we visit those who are sick or homebound.  We intuitively understand that the hope of Advent is grounded in the harsh realities of our community as our attention turns to bringing hope – to being hope – to others. 

  • Through your spirit of hope, St. Mark’s delivered a shopping basket filled with groceries to the City of Evanston this past week. That food, along with other food donations from throughout the community, will go to nearly 300 families in our community. 
  • In addition, two St. Mark’s parishioners volunteered at Tuesday’s Producemobile which saw the largest distribution yet – nearly 9 tons of fresh fruits and vegetables shared with more than 220 families.  
  •  In the Parlor, the Christmas tree continues to be decorated with new hats, mittens, gloves, scarves and socks that will be given to the homeless men and women who are guests of the Interfaith ActionHospitality Center and to the children who at Oakton Elementary School who participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program.

Yes, during the Season of Advent, we are a hope-filled people who generously bring hope to our community. 
The challenge, of course, is to not let this time of hopefulness become just another “program” of our already over-programmed lives, just another thing we do in this one season of the year.  The challenge is to allow the Season of Advent, this season of hopeful action to become a way of being throughout the year, throughout our lives. Today’s passage from Matthew opens with John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus to ask,
“’Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’”[7] 
Quoting Peter Steinke once again: “God made the first move in his promises, and invites us to respond movingly.”[8]  Jesus is the hope of the world.  Hope – “to spring, leap, or dance.”  May we be so moved today and always. Amen.

[1] Isaiah 11:6.
[2] Isaiah 35:5-6.
[3] Peter Steinke, A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope, (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2010), 37.
[4] Ibid., 37, 38.
[5] Douglas Harper, “hop,” Online Etymology accessed on December 13, 2013.
[6] John C. Polkinghorne, God of Hope and the End of the World, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 47-8.
[7] Matthew 11:2-5.
[8] Steinke, 97.