November 27, 2016 – First Sunday of Advent
Proclaimer: Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
Homily: Before the Beginning
Scripture: John 1:1-5
In his book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande, a surgeon in Boston, tells honest stories about people who are aging or living with incurable diseases. After a conversation with a 94 year old man named Lou, Dr. Gawande summarizes, “As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not seek more power. They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world – to make choices and sustain connections to others according to their own priorities” (p 146-7). Research shows that people who are autonomous and collaborate with others in positive visions live healthier and contribute more to the betterment of others than those who are cynical or living in despair.
Thornton Wilder properly observed, “Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair.”
In this world where fear, suffering, racism, poverty, injustice, violence, chaos, greed, lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation, social prejudice, hatred, and other sins are the headlines, what prevents you from becoming a cynic or giving over to despair? What is the vision that empowers you to keep on keeping on?
The Gospel of John begins with a familiar phrase; “In the beginning…” John’s audience knew about fear, suffering, racism, poverty, injustice, etc. They were being persecuted for their commitment to follow the teachings and lifestyle practices of Jesus. They also knew the Genesis story of creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” They were, of course, unaware that our universe is a spherical region of 90 billion light years in diameter.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we focus on God’s hope. John’s Gospel did not focus on how the universe began; he focused on God’s hope brought by Jesus who was ‘Before the Beginning.’ John offers no Mary or Joseph, no angels, shepherds, manger or baby. He presents Jesus as being present Before the Beginning. According to John, the advent or coming of Jesus as the Hope of the world does not begin in Bethlehem; but ‘Before the Beginning’ as The Living Word of The Living God.
As followers of Jesus, we hear a world crying out for hope. We open our lives to hear cries of loneliness, suffering, confusion, sorrow, bitterness, fear, rejection, persecution and the injustices that result when the light of God’s hope is absent. So, on this first Sunday of a new Christian Year, we focus on God’s hope that enters our world through Jesus – and God’s hope entering our world through our ministries, as followers of Jesus.
John refers to Jesus as ‘logos;’ meaning ‘an expression of a thought, concept or idea.’ In Jesus, we find God’s hope embodied as a living expression the life of God.
This same Living Word that transformed the world around Jerusalem to have hope, transforms the world around Charlotte. The hope brought by Jesus is the hope we offer. Jesus shows us what God is like and what humans can be like if committed to God’s vision. This hope brings light into every dark place. And the darkness has never and will never be able to overcome God’s light.
You are not a cynic and you are not controlled by despair because you invest your life in the vision of God’s hope, as revealed in Jesus; a vision of a world reflecting the character of God where love, faith, redemption, honesty, reconciliation, humility, vulnerability, trust, servanthood, authenticity, peace-building, collaboration, encouragement, joyful witness, grace, generosity, and other expressions of the character of God express God’s light to dispel darkness.
So, as you approach this bread and cup, please consider where you need the hope of God to shine into your life like a beam of light into darkness? And, consider where you may be able to be a beam of God’s hope in the world as a follower of Jesus.
Welcome to Advent; a season to celebrate the light of God’s hope; a light which is always coming into our lives and into our world and can never be diminished. Let us be renewed by God’s hopeful vision which has been part of God since ‘Before the Beginning.’