Hope for Tomorrow, Today Third Sunday of Advent

Scripture: Isaiah 12:1-6 – You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy, you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

Reflection: Have you ever longingly hoped for and spoken of a better day to come when you felt shackled and limited by your circumstance? Have you ever been at a place in life when you wondered, “How or when are we ever going to get out of this mess or recover from this catastrophe?”

Sometimes the circumstances of our lives can be so challenging, we can find it hard to even imagine things getting better anytime soon, or ever. We see it difficult to trust in or sing praises to the Lord for salvation that seems distant, even impossible when we are shackled with troubles in the present. We ask, “Where is God in all this?”

The prophet Isaiah casts a vision of a good but distant future for Israel when they in captivity to Assyria. That day to come Isaiah speaks of is seemingly impossible for a downtrodden and defeated people to imagine, much less attain from where they are historically located.  The harshness of their lives as captives had all but extinguished their capacity to hope and believe their troubled life could ever be different.

Isaiah’s vision proclaims that in the future, God will free, and restore a forgiven Israel. In that day to come, Israel will look back on their experience of captivity to Assyria and their deliverance by God from it with thanksgiving. On that day to come, they will exalt God for their liberation with joy, song, and story. But that day will happen in the distant future. For now, they are shackled in captivity to Assyria.  

Even though the lived experience of Israel in captivity is harsh and their salvation lies in the distant future, the Israelites can draw their hope from God’s well of salvation. They can participate in acts of rejoicing, praise, song, and story in their present state of captivity because they are already becoming forgiven, freed, and restored by God who is faithful. Therefore, as Walter Brueggemann says in his book, The Prophetic Imagination, the Israelites can ‘embarrassingly have hope in a good future that flies in the face of all those claims they have been told are facts. They can refuse to accept the reading of reality, daring to announce that the present is now called into question.’ The anguishes and fears the Israelites experience because of their present troubled state are rendered powerless by drawing embarrassingly from the hope of God’s deep and everflowing well of salvation, salvation already present, but not yet fulfilled.

We do not have to wait until everything in our lives, our church, or our world is perfect before we can live secure, with joy, and at peace. We may find ourselves in difficulties today, but our deep-sourced hope in our already and not yet salvation unshackles us from the anguishes and fears of our present circumstance as we trust Jesus Christ, our strength and our might, our living water (John 7:38), who has become our salvation. In that spirit of hope, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards our heart and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6).

Hymn of Prayer:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.

Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O Come, thou Wisdom from on high, and order all things far and night; to us the path of knowledge show and cause us in her ways to go. R

O come, O come, great Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe. R

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of they people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on they mercy call. R

O come, thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home. The captives from their prison free and conquer death’s deep misery. R

O come, thou Dayspring, some and cheer our spirits by they thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and earth’s dark shadows put to flight. R

O come, Desire of nations bind all peoples in one heart and mind. From dust thou brought us forth to life; deliver us from earthly strive. R

Amen.

The United Methodist Hymnal, #211 (Words: Henry Sloan Coffin, 1916; Music: Thomas Helmore 1854)

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