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11.30.14 Christ our Hope Romans 8:18-25 Sermon Summary

by on December 1, 2014

The essence of Christianity isn’t Christmas, its Advent.

Summary Points

  • Why Advent has become more important than Christmas
  • The role of suffering in the Christian life
  • Five strategies for increasing hope this Advent

This time of year the traditional conservative pundits start the lament about the “war on Christmas.” If Christians want to lament something, it should be the war on Advent, because Advent, not Christmas, is what Christianity is all about.

Advent reminds us that we live between the 1st and 2nd coming of Christ, between promise and fulfillment, between installment and completion, between guarantee and deliverance. Advent gives us the truth about our mixture of joy and pain in this life. Advent reminds us of the unique way Christian doctrine relates suffering and hope.

Hope As First CandleWhereas other religions deal with suffering by enduring it, escaping it, avoiding it, or overcoming it, Christianity embraces suffering and invites to hope. Lewis Smedes, in Keeping Hope Alive, writes, “We need to hope because God gave us the power to imagine the future, but gave us no power to control it.”

Our own imaginations of the future are powerful enough. Its why, when we are free, we are creative, inventive, and progressive. Nearly everything you enjoy is the result of someone’s free imagination. The power of our imagination is also why, when we are not free, we become criminal, defensive, and despairing.

But even more than “the power to imagine the future,” God has given us a vision of the future, his vision. It’s a vision of reconciled relationships, and healing for our souls and bodies. It’s a place where there is “no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain, where God himself wipes away every tear.” (Revelation 21:4)

Hope is necessary, and uniquely Christian, Smedes says, because this is the future God envisions for us, but we are incapable of achieving it.

Suffering serves as the reminder of both of these truths: that (1) There is a better future and (2) We depend on God to bring it about.

When Paul says that “all creation suffers,” he’s referring on one hand, to the created world. Creation suffers, for example, by the drought caused by over-farming, and by climate change resulting from volcanic eruption. Intersteller is just the most recent movie about abandoning earth because it’s suffering make it inhabitable for humans. In this arena of suffering, God promises a new earth, and only God can bring it about.

On the other hand, “all creation suffers” is a reference to the suffering of others besides us. All creation suffers with non-white Americans—young men of color, or immigrants from south of the boarder, for example. Creation suffers as the poor doing without nutritious food or adequate health care. All creation suffers in countries where tyrants rule over the powerless. In this arena, God promises justice, and only God can bring it about.

But then there is the matter of our personal suffering, which can either be ordinary or extreme. Ordinary suffering is like aging or common maladies. Extreme suffering results from victimization or severe or prolonged illness.

How do we maintain hope in our suffering? How do we keep the vision of the future alive? How do we keep faith in God strong? This is the Christian quest, task, and vocation. This is the essence of Advent.

Here are some strategies for keeping hope in God’s vision alive and faith strong.

  1. Remember God’s faithfulness in the past. God was faithful to ancient Israel, as the opening words of Psalm 85 recall: “You restored the fortunes of Jacob.” God was faithful to Christ, whose resurrection signaled the coming of the kingdom. And God has been faithful to you—you’ve suffered before, yet here you are.
  2. Express your desire for deliverance. Psalm 85 turns from remembrance to request: “Will you not revive us, that we also may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love; grant us your salvation.” Some Christians believe they shouldn’t pray to be delivered from suffering. That belief is not in the Bible. Even Jesus prayed to be delivered from suffering.
  3. Look for a purpose. You will not always find one—contrary to some teachings, not all suffering is redemptive. But if there is a purpose, you’re more likely to find one if you look for it. In Paul’s words, purposeful suffering is a reference to the “redemption of our bodies.” Christ suffered for a purpose—so might we.
  4. Meditate on God’s promises of a new heaven and a new earth, and of social justice, of the place where “righteousness and peace kiss one another,” and where creation is “set free from its bondage to decay.” It is in light of these promises that Paul won’t even compare the present sufferings to the future glory.
  5. In summary, to keep hope alive and faith strong, we can observe Advent. Read devotionals, schedule some silence and stillness, light candles, pray, read scripture or other uplifting literature, reconnect with nature, say no to the pressures of consumerism, and bear witness to Christ’s 1st and 2nd coming.

The whole creation is waiting for you to be revealed as a child of God. Let Christ be born in you this Advent, and may you be born again.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • What are some of the things you’ve been taught about suffering? Do they reflect the whole “counsel of scripture”? In other words, did you know the Bible itself has a number of ways to address suffering? Which ones minister to you?
  • What are the ways you’ve seen “all creation suffer”? In what ways are you suffering right now?
  • Which of the strategies outlined above, or others that have worked for you, will you be using to help you keep hope alive and faith strong?
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