The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Guest Sermon - December 2, 2018
  Rev. Sandy Daly

Scripture Reading: Luke 3:3-6
Sermon Title: A Heart for Hope

A voice crying out in the wilderness… words of challenge and words of hope: “Repent! says the prophet. Reflect on what in our lives needs changing… then move to change it! Then there are these words of hope: “The rough places will be made smooth; the valleys and hills will be made plain…” A voice crying out in the wilderness…


We all know wilderness times - the rough places, the valleys and hills of life - when we look most fervently for signs of hope… times when we’re overwhelmed with pressures or anxieties, when loved ones are sick, or we ourselves are struggling …times when our future is unclear, when we feel lost or alone - even when surrounded by those who care… and we need a sign of hope.


As we open our eyes and our hearts, little by little, hope can move us to a new place… to new possibilities. The power of hope is born of faith… belief in what the future may hold. It is full of anticipation. Hope is not just wishful thinking. It has a positive energy that draws us toward its fulfillment.


Advent is a time for this hopeful anticipation. The word “Advent” means “coming”. Something…someone’s coming! Holiness – God’s grace – is ever coming into our lives... perhaps this year in some new or unexpected way. For children, hope is expressed by opening the doors on Advent calendars, and counting the days to Christmas morning. But Advent can be so much more than just waiting and counting the days… so much more than all our “preparations”. It can be an invitation to experience life at a deeper level: to reflect more thoughtfully on the meaning of the Christmas story - to reflect on the impact of the birth of Jesus... in our world... and in our lives. It is a story which can hold something different for each of us, if we allow ourselves to ponder it deeply.


For most of us, Advent and Christmas are a time for family and friends and feasting; a time of decorating and gift giving; a time for concerts and parties ...and shopping. It is also a time for remembering. We remember our Christmases past. We remember those who are no longer with us. We remember good times and some, maybe not so good. The weeks of Advent are a time for preparing… and a time for remembering… looking forward and looking back. Each Christmas marks the inevitable passing of the years.


But Christmas, and Advent, are even more than this... more than cherished memories …   and memories in the making. Someone once suggested to me that the four weeks of Advent, culminating in Christmas, can be like a time of gestation - a time pregnant with meaning - a birthing and possibility of something new for each of us as we open our hearts…    something deeper, more holy... something of God.


Of course, we can do this kind of reflecting and deepening of our spirits any time of the year, but Advent seems especially suited for this metaphor of nurturing and birthing something new in our lives… even as it was so for Mary and Joseph. Perhaps new hope in a time of darkness or despair... or a change of heart, forgiving yourself or someone else, bringing a sense of freedom and healing...     perhaps a new and closer walk with God... or a stronger awareness of “God-with-us” in our ordinary day-to-day life. It is this lifetime of Christmas experiences and memories, that can somehow soften our hearts, and give us a heart for hope; God’s grace stirring within each of us and opening us to new possibilities, if only in a quiet sort of way.


True preparation for Christ’s birth is a matter of the heart. It is a way of being and believing.


We live our lives, many of us, so intent on getting there that there’s little time to think about where it is we’re trying to get to and why it is we are going. This Advent season is an invitation to take the time to think about where you are going and why. The word REPENT is not only a chastisement… it is also an invitation. Give yourself time to reflect - for new life, new clarity, a new vision - to grow within you. Give yourself time for hope-filled anticipation.


You may ask,        “How can we find time for this... with our already full schedules, and the extra load of Christmas preparations? How can we even think about time for deep reflection and spiritual growth? Birthing something new?”


I have no easy answers. Making time is a struggle for most of us. The irony is that many of our daily pressures and Christmas pressures are self-inflicted and come from our efforts to demonstrate to others and ourselves the very things that are symbolized in our Advent candles: hope, peace, joy and love. We want to show how much we love each other, so we exchange presents and cards, and open our houses to friends and family. We want to show our love for our children by recreating the magic of childhood memories. We want to meet the hopes of loved ones and needy ones. We want to find peace and make peace. We want to experience joy in the music and the smiles of those around us... Meeting all these desires for hope peace, joy and love keeps us very busy!


I’m not suggesting that we drop these things and spend Advent in solitary contemplation - although I confess that at times it doesn’t sound so bad! What I am suggesting, is to take the time - in all we do - to ask ourselves,

“Why am I doing all this? What is my true hope for Christmas?” When it has come and gone, what ways do we hope it has touched us? What ways have we touched others? What experience of hope… or joy… or peace… or love has been born in us? … have we given as a gift?


Daily devotions, on our own, with a friend or with our family - just a few minutes each day throughout Advent - could bring surprising richness into our lives. Perhaps there’s nothing we’re ready to let go of to make time for this sort of prayer or reflection. Still, we can let these questions and reflections shape our thoughts as we sit in our car or in church or at the dentist; as we bake the cookies, write the cards, or sit for a moment on a bench in the mall.


What new thing is stirring in our hearts? What is the real gift that we want to give to those whom we love? What sort of person do we long to become?      What is our deepest hope for our lives? If we let ourselves ask these questions, at unexpected times and places, the answers may come.


The key to hope is believing… having faith even in the times of unknowing …even in the darkest hours… that there is light. It is faith that ours is a loving God… a God of mercy and compassion. This faith allows us to experience joy in the midst of trials… peace even in the midst of turmoil... for we place our hope on God, not ourselves alone… and not our circumstances.


Mary is an example of one whose heart was prepared - ready to receive God - even though there was much she didn’t comprehend, much that was worrisome, frightening, complicated. By faith she was able to respond to God’s call with peace and joy in her heart. And God’s call comes to us as well: to be prepared, ready to receive, ready with open hearts. God calls each of us to fulfill a special purpose… and God’s call comes not just once, but throughout our lives.


In many ways we live in disturbing times. The world appears to be constantly shifting... and often in ways that are distressing or frightening. Things can seem to be coming apart or out of control. Hunger, war, disease, a threatened environment, shifting powers, uncertain economies… yet, it was into such a world that Jesus was born. Many details are different, but many are still the same. Jesus’ birth helps us to see this can be a time – not of death – but of life… even new life – birthing the impossible possible. And with every birth -  there is hope, and mystery, and possibility.


Jesus comes into the darkness of our world to reveal God’s love and to call us to our mission: to reflect the light of that love for one another. In advent we envision the world for which we wait, opening to possibilities not yet known. Ours is to choose HOW we wait… how we prepare for Christ’s coming into our hearts in – perhaps – a totally new way. So have a heart for hope, open to the holy imagination of God. It could change your life. It could change mine. It could change our world. Amen.