First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Sermon: “Mr. Rogers’ Christmas: The Gifts of the Season – Hope”
If I recall correctly it was about 2011, when the meeting of the Kansas West Conference that year something just seemed off, not right, unsettled in my heart and soul. I continued to feel that way after it was all over and I was back home and working in the church. I called a long-time colleague of mine, who had also been my pastor before I was in the ministry and set a time to visit. We had a long talk about my feeling of alienation, distance, disconnectedness with not only the conference but with many of my colleagues. I felt in exile somehow, frustrated with longtime relationships, with our conference, with our denomination… it just didn’t feel right. Tom and I visited for a long time and in his always gentle way, he encouraged me to continue to wrestle with what was going on.
It can be a difficult place to be feeling disconnected from what we have always known. It is a difficult place to be to feel cut off from the familiar, distanced from who and where we have always found comfort and inclusion. It is disconcerting and troubling for our hearts, souls, and minds.
This was the experience that came to mind as I read the words from Jeremiah in preparation for this first Sunday of Advent. Advent, in the life of the church is a season of longing, yearning, and waiting. We find this writing from the book of Jeremiah addressing his audience of a people facing, or already experiencing exile in Babylon; cut off, distanced, alienated from the familiar and where they had always found comfort and inclusion.
We can find ourselves in a similar place in our current state of affairs, whether we are talking civic life, our lives in relationship to our government and leaders, our lives in relationship to our denominational affiliation. We can find ourselves in a difficult place of exile, so to speak, frustrated, disconnected, distant, alienated, a troubling in our souls, if you will.
We listen to the news, read the papers, watch the twitter feeds, and know our world, our country, our community, our churches are filled with anxiety and uncertainty.
Families and children tear gassed at the border. The passing of a president, who for all his faults, at least tried to guide us to a kinder and gentler way of being a country. Power plays at the G20 summit and an administration that continues to not only deny the effects of climate change, but refuses to work with other countries in quelling its effects. A culture and society that continues to be swallowed up by easy untruth rather than taking the time to study and find the truth. We live in perilous times. We live here in Advent…
Advent is for exactly such a time as this! Advent, I believe is what makes these kinds of times livable and survivable. Advent is the time to know hope still lives.
“The days are surely coming,” Jeremiah proclaims… when righteousness will be the standard. Not “self” righteousness that often comes to mind when we hear that word… but right doing, doing the good thing, doing the God thing, conducting in accord with God’s purpose… it is the language of Advent. A Journey toward a just, kind, and humble world. A beloved community of grace, life together is the nature of God. Deborah Block, in her commentary of this passage writes, “The congregation that observes Advent will mark time differently from those who live December as a countdown to Christmas and the end of the year. The Sundays of Advent count forward to a time that begins with the birth of Christ…”1 So, the context of what we begin to today… Christmas is not a destination but a beginning of something new. Advent is a journey of Hope.
Within Mr. Rogers’ writings he spoke of this Hope and this journey of beginnings when he said, “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”2 Reading the book, I’m Proud of You, My Friendship with Fred Rogers by Tim Madigan,3 Mr. Rogers was, among other things, the embodiment of Hope. There is something about those we have known and read about who’s lives just seem to ooze hope. Those who can look into the most dire of times and still see a glimmer of what might be better. Jeremiah was one such person, Mr. Rogers was such a person, and my friend Tom was one such person. Oh, there are those who will be cynical about the notion of hope, those who look into our world, our country, our community, our churches and only see hopelessness and futility… they will always be there.
As I read the book about Mr. Rogers and the commentaries on this passage and our theme of Hope for today I was reminded of the movie The Shawshank Redemption. In one particular scene the main character, Andy Dufresne, has just come out of being in solitary confinement, the hole they called it, exile if you will… his inmate friends were asking him about the time spent and how he handled it and whether what he had done, played music for the prison without permission, was worth it. He said, “I had Mr. Mozart to keep me company. It was in here. [gestures over his heart] And in here. That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music?”
His friend Red replied, “Well… I played a mean harmonica as a younger man. Lost interest in it, though. Didn’t make too much sense in here.”
Andy, “No, here’s where it makes the most sense. You need it so you don’t forget.”
Andy, “That there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone. That there’s… there’s somethin’ inside that they can’t get to; that they can’t touch. It’s yours.”
Red, “What are you talkin’ about?”
Red, “Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. It’s got no use on the inside. You’d better get used to that idea.”4
Hope is a dangerous thing… it can be… it is… but I believe not for the same reasons Red points out to Andy… it is a dangerous thing because it can change a person’s life… it can change the world.
I do not recall if my friend Tom said this exactly or if these words came as a result of my wrestling with my isolation later… but there came the realization that in my relationship to our annual conference I had relied much, I had much privilege, because of my relationship with my dad’s generation in the church… they were retiring and dying … they were leaving me… if I was going to make a difference in the conference and in the denomination I was going to have to carve my own way from here on out… It was not a daunting realization… but one that gave me hope.
Mr. Rogers’ words spoke to me and to this Advent Hope when I read them the other day… “What’s been important in my understanding of myself and others is the fact that each one of us is so much more than any one thing. A sick child is much more than his or her sickness. A person with a disability is much, much more than a handicap. A pediatrician is more than a medical doctor. You’re much more than your job description or your age or your income or your output.”
Our world, our country, our community, and our churches are much more than our current situation and struggles… we know what we need to do… we know who we need to be… and there is hope in that knowing, there is hope in that doing!
When Andy Dufresne finally escapes from Shawshank Prison, he leaves a note for Red in prearranged place. Part of the note reads, “Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I will be hoping that this letter finds you, and finds you well.”
Hope is what we carry with us in these days of struggle and becoming. Hope is what we carry with us in this Advent Season as we journey toward a new beginning. Hope…is a companion that changes us… changes the world around us…
Hope is the fuel of our presence.
Hope is the fan upon the flame of passion and action.
Hope is the quiet voice drawing us inward to peace.
Hope is the drive to remind us to love …
Hope rises in our dreams…Our dreams remind us to live as if the hope is already reality.
Living in Hope sheds light on the Way to the common good for all.
Hope is a companion that points to something beyond where we are.
Hope is a companion that tells us our current reality need not be the final destination.
Hope is a companion that reminds us of our dreams and visions.
Hope is a companion that moves us toward a better time and a better place.
Hope is a companion that demands justice for all.
Hope is a companion that inspires in us the kindness that seeks to understand and build relationship.
Hope is a companion that calls us to humility in relationship with others and the Divine.
Hope is a companion that navigates the darkness, suffering, grief, and struggle to be…
Be… Here and Now…to Be with all of God’s Immersed in the Spirit and connection of Love. Thanks be for Hope.
May it be so. May it be now. Amen.
Salaam, Shalom, Peace Be With You!
1 Block, Deborah, (2009) Feasting on the Word. John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.
2 Rogers, Fred, (2003) The World According to Mr. Rogers, Important Things to Remember, Family Communications, New York, New York
3 Madigan, Tim, (2006) I’m Proud of You, My Friendship with Fred Rogers. Penguin Group, New York, New York.
4 King, Stephen, Frank Darabont, (1994) The Shawshank Redemption.