Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
November 29, 2020 Worship Sermon - "Hope for the Future"
Delivered by Rev. Stephen Keiser
Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and it puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
It’s strange, albeit hopeful, to read these words on the last Sunday in November. Despite the mild temperatures of the last few days, we know that winter is just three weeks away. A cold gale from the north will soon blow away the last remaining leaves from the branches and for the next three months the trees will be the barren grey of winter. So this metaphor of the fig tree in summer seems a bit out of place; but this year, I’ll take it. I’ll gladly take this reminder that spring is coming. We may not have many fig trees in Upper Darby, but we do have those beautiful cherry trees surrounding the church. After the cold and ice of winter, these cherry trees will bloom again and the world will come alive. If you don’t believe me, go look at their branches and you’ll see the buds for next year’s blooms are already forming. Even as winter is settling in, the cherry trees are preparing for the spring and summer that lie ahead.
That gives me great hope and hope is something all of us are clinging to right now. Three coronavirus vaccines are showing promising results and our hope is that by the time summer actually does arrive next year, many of us will be vaccinated and we can begin the process of recovering from this pandemic. Maybe, by the time we would normally have our international brunch in June, enough people will be vaccinated that we can actually enjoy this brunch together up in Wagner Hall. And hopefully the remodeling of the bathrooms will be completed and the lift will be installed and we can celebrate a new beginning for our congregation… hopefully we can celebrate the 100th anniversary of our congregation that we weren’t able to fully celebrate this past summer… hopefully we can sing together in our sanctuary and hug each other during the sharing of the peace… hopefully we can gather for children’s Sunday school and youth group and Bible study… and hopefully we can use the technology that we have learned to continue to stay connected with our members who are not able to be physically present in this building. There are so many things I hope for right now, and that’s just for this congregation. If I multiply my hope by the seven billion inhabitants of the earth, I imagine there are a lot of people who are clinging to hope along with me.
One word of caution: nostalgia is not hope. Hope is forward looking. Nostalgia is backward looking. Nostalgia dreams of the “good old days” and longs to relive those days again. The problem with nostalgia is that things change; and you can never go back to exactly the way things were before. For you scientifically oriented people, that’s the second law of thermodynamics. You can’t relive the past… nor should you want to, really. The past probably wasn’t as great as you remember it. That was the whole problem with “Make America Great Again.” I was around sixty years ago. I remember what the world was like back then and it wasn’t as rosy as some may lead you to believe. I remember the Schuylkill River being the color of antifreeze. I remember driving down 95 and seeing a brown haze over Center City. I remember black people being redlined out of Levittown, my hometown. I remember women could not obtain a loan without their husband’s approval. I remember when people with disabilities were warehoused cruelly in state hospitals with no hope for living out their dreams. The present is not as great as we would like it to be, but neither was the past.
You hear a hint of nostalgia in our reading from Isaiah. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down — When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” Isaiah is remembering the good old days when God appeared to the people at Mount Sinai and the mountains quaked with God’s presence. Isaiah is writing during a time of disillusionment. After being in exile in Babylon, the people had returned to Jerusalem with the hope of rebuilding it to its former glory. Make Jerusalem Great Again, they cried. But the rebuilt Jerusalem never seemed to live up to the glory days of David and Solomon and so people were disappointed.
If only, instead of looking backward, they had looked forward, they would see that God was doing something new. God was no longer going to be the God of a small tribe of people in the Eastern Mediterranean, like back in the days of Moses. God was revealing Godself to all humanity. As the people of Israel were scattered through the world, they took their knowledge of God with them, so that people of other nations could come to know God. And in Jesus Christ, God would come down and dwell among us in a new way. The Holy Spirit would be poured out so that all humanity could speak with God just as Moses had spoken with God on Mount Sinai.
People get nostalgic at Christmas. “Here we are as in olden days, happy golden days of yore…” It’s okay to remember fondly all those wonderful Christmases of the past, but sometimes that gets in the way of enjoying the Christmas of the present. When people say, “It just doesn’t feel like Christmas!” they are often comparing what they are feeling today with what they remember feeling years ago. And that can make it harder to experience the joy of Christmas today.
Advent is not a season of nostalgia; it’s a season of hope. Advent is time of looking forward to the unexpected things God will do tomorrow… things even more amazing that what God did in the past. I don’t know anyone who would want to relive the year 2020. But the experiences of 2020 can give us wisdom that we will take with us into the year 2021, that might help us to build a better, more just world in the future.
So take a lesson from the fig tree and keep your eyes open for signs of future growth. Stay awake so that you can see what God will be doing in the world of tomorrow. And know that the God who led Moses three thousand years ago, still leads us today, and will lead us into the future.