Hoping for the Best
Advent 1 – Narrative Lectionary 4
December 3, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
Daniel 3.1, 8-30
If you knew that you had a limited time left to live, what would you hope for? What would you want to do before you died? Many of us might wish for a favorable afterlife or heaven. Some of you might want to have a painless exit from this world. With more thought, we would also add we’d hope to have time to say good bye to loved ones or to get our affairs in order. But is that it? Is there nothing else that you would hope for after leaving this earth? Is there anything outside of yourself that you’d want to have happen?
I wonder what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were hoping for as they faced the fiery furnace of fatality. They were coming to terms with their disobedience to the command of the king and the end of their lives and doing so in quick order. It’s possible they saw this end coming, or at least its possibility, but even so they did not have much time to prepare for it. But what were they hoping for? Being saved? Doubtful. Heaven? Not in their religion; there was no theology of an afterlife in Judaism of that time.
Last Wednesday evening Vicar John asked us to define hope and it was very difficult. I was reminded me of former US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s remark regarding obscenity. He could not define but famously said, “I know it when I see it.” I think that most of us know hope when we see it. But what we noticed at our table was that most people talked about hope in terms of faith, trust or belief (which are the same things). I recalled reading that faith is the foundation on which hope rests and even from which it springs. But in turn, hope nourishes the faith on which it rests.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were forced exiles in a foreign land, Babylon. They are cut off from their homeland, the temple and, some of them think, from their God. They have no reasonable chance of survival from the fiery furnace and no belief in heaven to cling to, yet they still trust in God. Perhaps they hope others will be encouraged by their example or that God will eventually free the Jews. We’ll never know because the text doesn’t tell us. Even so, they had hope because of who they believed God to be.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of preparation for celebrating Jesus’ coming to earth through the taking on of human flesh. The theme of this Sunday is hope, and we usually thinking about hoping for Jesus’ coming again at the end of the ages. But I want you to think about hope beyond Christmas and even beyond your own death.
Specifically, what is your hope for Grace Lutheran Church, either the near future or beyond? Please take out the blank piece of paper you were given and write the phrase, “My hope for Grace Lutheran Church is…” Then I want you to finish the sentence any way you think and place it in the offering plate or the prayer bowl. Please be as concrete and specific as possible. We’ll use your responses to help us think about what God might be up to in this place. I’ll give you a minute or two before we sing the sermon hymn. Amen.