Waiting for Hope- Advent One- Sermon and Candle Lighting

a heart for hope sermon series with backgroundA heart for hope

Advent Candle Reading Number One


The land was devastated. The prophet Jeremiah imprisoned.

Through tears Jeremiah preached of a coming hope.

The Lord will rebuild. The Lord will restore.

The Lord will cleanse. The Lord will heal.

The Lord is our hope.

Call to the Lord! Our God will answer!

Lord, send Your hope into our hearts.


” ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the promise I made to my people. At the right time I will make a righteous branch sprout from David’s line to do what is just and right. Then they will declare ‘the Lord is Our Righteous Savior.’ ” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)


Today, we light our first advent candle. Lord, we long for Your righteousness.

Jesus, grow your righteousness in our hearts.

Lord we pray: Send your hope into our hearts. Amen.


Jeremiah did not have many reasons to be hopeful. Jeremiah’s preaching, prose and poems stretch across nearly forty turbulent years for the prophet and for Israel. Early on, Jeremiah called for repentance but no one listened. They trusted in the Temple of the Lord. They felt safe in the Temple that God built (Jeremiah 7). They trusted in their national covenant with God- a covenant that they did not keep. They practiced idolatry and injustice as they claimed a birthright connection to God.   Jeremiah preached,   “To whom shall I speak and give warning-that they may hear? See, their ears are closed, they cannot listen. The word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it. …I will stretch out my hand against the inhabitants of the land, says the Lord, for from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely” (6:11-13).   Jeremiah called out but no one listened. Few turned from their sins. Few sought justice. They felt a national entitlement, a sort of inherent inherited righteousness and blessing. They believed that God who led them through the Red Sea, gave them the Promised Land, and was to be worshiped in one holy spot, would never fail them. Jeremiah preached, but few returned to the Lord. Jeremiah sounded an alarm and everyone just kept living in the same way! He was a discouraged preacher.


But when the disaster drew near the Temple City, when the armies of Babylon encircled the nation, Jeremiah did not rejoice about being right. His prediction of God’s coming judgment brought no joy. He never chided “I told you so.” Instead, the prophet fell into tears: “My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.  Hark, the cry of my poor people: ‘Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her? The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.’ For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.” Jeremiah asks the Lord, the people and his own soul “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”   Jeremiah laments as the suffering servant who prefigures Jesus. Jeremiah weeps as a compassionate priest, a comforter walking alongside those who mourn. Jeremiah became The Weeping Prophet.


Even through tears, Jeremiah prophesies a crushing set of blows to the national psyche. First, Babylon will breach Jerusalem’s walls and destroy their capital. The Temple, the center of their faith, the facility in which they trusted, will be pillaged and destroyed. The Babylonians will make ruins of the Holy of Holies, that place housing the very presence of an unapproachable God, where the high priest once a year made atonement for the nation’s sins. The sacrificial system itself will be impossible. Nebuchadnezzar will take the Promised Land God gave them. David’s Royal dynasty will end. Their sense of religious exclusivity and superiority as God’s beloved chosen people will wither under the Babylonian siege, captivity and exile. While others preached peace, Jeremiah spoke of a gathering doom. King Zedekiah, unable to stomach Jeremiah’s dire warnings, arrested him. King Zedekiah preferred the comforting hot air of comforting preachers.


Our passage comes as the Babylonians come through the walls, pillage the Temple, strip it of the holy artifacts, and carry them off to a Babylonian Museum. Jeremiah preaches as Nebuchadnezzar’s troops heat up the huge limestone foundation blocks with fires, turning the stones to sand. The Twin Towers of the Temple and Palace crumble. The young men from the best schools line up and endure a forced march to Babylon. Their tormentors force them to sing the folks songs and patriotic hymns of their native Israel just for laughs. The Psalmist wails, “Our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137). Babylon simply destroys the whole capital city. Jackals, foxes and rabbits will soon make homes in the wreckage of the Holy of Holies.


There was little reason for joy. Temple, King, homes, treasures, land, and national pride destroyed. Imagine not just having the Pentagon and Twin Towers hit, but our whole capital destroyed. This was a deep religious problem, for the Jews were God’s Chosen People. God had given them the Promised Land. God had given them a king- he was blinded and paraded about like a sad trophy. It was gone. The imprisoned weeping prophet was right.


Amid the destruction, the Weeping Prophet offered a new word from the Lord. Jeremiah offers a second movement, a second word, a second stanza, a new refrain, a new chapter from God for the now torn down and rent asunder masses.


The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still confined in prison: “Thus says the Lord who made the earth, the Lord who formed it to establish it- Call to me and I will answer you!… I am going to bring recovery and healing; I will heal. I will restore and rebuild. I will cleanse the guilt of your sin against me. I will forgive your sin and rebellion. …In this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without human beings or animals, in the towns and the streets that are desolate, without inhabitants, human or animal, there shall once more be heard the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord: Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever! For I will restore,’ says the Lord. … 14 The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. And his kingdom shall be called: The Lord is our righteous Savior.’ ”


Imagine you stood in Jerusalem a few days after Nebuchadnezzar punctured the walls. You smell the fires systematically crumbling your Temple. You lay brothers in arms to rest. The sounds of weeping fill the city. Smoke ascends towards the heavens like an unholy offering. All you believed in seems gone. Humiliation. Defeat. Confusion. Anger. Lost-ness.


Imagine as the imprisoned, once weeping prophet preaches. Listen: In this very place, where our Temple smolders, where crows roost, where soldiers sit on the mercy seat, where our homes once stood listen. Listen! Listen for a word from our lord. Can you hear it? It lilts faintly like a long off distant noise. Could it be wild dogs howling in these very ruins? Listen. Wait. Listen, even as we march away from this very place we will walk back this way again. Listen, we will gather in this holy place in forty or seventy years. Let’s walk back closer to this very place. Listen, is that noise from the Lord?   Listen, are children playing amid the ruins- hide and seek or tag? Listen, and walk back from Babylon- you exiled friends draw nearer. Can you hear the voices? Can you distinguish the happy sounds? Could that be laughter and gladness? Listen walk back towards this now smoldering place, walk back towards the toppled Temple courts. Listen do you hear the bridegroom laugh, can you make out the voice of the bride?   Can you hear the voices of singing, as the wedding party brings thank offerings to the House of God to honor the newlyweds? Yes, that is the sound of the Wedding Feast!   Yes, in this very place families will celebrate the promise of love and life together! Will you join in the new song?   Will you sing “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever!” Will you dare sing of God’s steadfast love as the Temple lies in ruins? Listen. Can you hear God singing?


Can you imagine such hope amid smoldering ruins, with the years of exile looming? Jeremiah preaches the hope of rebuilding. Jeremiah who wept for injustice says the happiness of wedding songs will resound in the Temple Courts. God is our hope. To people who trusted in a now collapsed religious birthright, princes, and strong walls Jeremiah offers a second word from the Lord. Our God rebuilds, forgives, heals, cleanses and restores. Will you sing a hymn of hope? “Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, God’s steadfast love endures forever!”   One of the commentaries wrote “In the midst of a Babylonian siege only God could make such a radical claim about the future.” Will you imagine such hope?


Friends, hear the Good News- listen for the miracle. Without the Temple, the sacrifices, or the Promised Land Judaism is reborn in occupation. King gone, Temple burned, Promised Land taken, chosen people enslaved, exclusive divine election shattered and somehow faith thrives. They listened. The study of scripture replaced sacrifices. Rabbinical ethics replaced priestly pomp. Living the Torah’s teachings superseded pilgrimages to the Temple. The synagogue is born amid the wreckage of the Temple. God writes the law in their hearts. They listen and hear God’s call in Babylon! That is a miracle!



The Lord will rebuild. The Lord will restore.

The Lord will cleanse. The Lord will heal.

The Lord is our hope.

Call to the Lord! Our God will answer!

Let us pray: Lord, send Your hope into our hearts.

Let us say “The Lord is our righteous Savior.”


Where God is- there is hope: this is the essence of our Gospel! Indeed, in due season God will send the Hope of the Nations. God will come to our hearts, to build a kingdom not of thrones, temples and robes but of peace, love, and forgiveness.


God is our Hope. That might be the essence of this Advent season; Hang on, listen for the distant sounds of God’s rebuilding. Listen. Wait. God will arrive, rebuild, and restore. Even as we weep, the songs of the bridal party will resound again. Our hope for God will send us dancing and laughing again!


Hope was not born in a palace but in the stable. There was no room even in the Inn.

Hope did not hail from well-connected families but emerged from the carpenter’s shop.

Hope was not honed in the Ivy League seminaries but a small town synagogue.

Hope’s Mother spoke to angels.

Hope’s step-Father followed difficult dreams.

Hope was just about born out of wedlock. Inside his Mother’s belly, Hope’s cousin John leapt for joy at hearing Mary’s voice!

Hope’s Great Aunt Elizabeth encouraged Hope’s pregnant teenage mother saying “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”


Cousin John baptized Hope and preached fiery repentance in the wilderness.

Hope’s first sermon filled the congregation with such rage they drove Hope out of town.

Hope called the fisherman, tax collectors, harlots and wide-eyed zealots.

Hope preached “serve your neighbor, welcome strangers, feed the hungry, and love enemies.”

Hope warned “you cannot love God and money.”

Hope broke the rules.

Hope healed on Sundays.

Hope summarized The Law as “love God completely and serve your neighbor as yourself.”

Hope dared to say “your sins are forgiven”! Who could say that but God alone?

Hope embraced lepers, blind, paralyzed, prostitutes, unclean, Samaritans and other religious outcasts.

Hope simply loved everybody.

The religious folks called Hope a blasphemer.

A friend betrayed Hope with a kiss.

When the religious police came, Hope’s disciples denied they knew him.

The church folks lied about Hope at his trial.

Hope was crucified between two ruffians.

Upon the cross, Hope said “Father forgive them-they do not know what they are doing.”

Hope lay in the tomb for three days.

Our creed says Hope descended into hell. He preached the Good News there.

Hope rose from the grave victorious over sin, death, hate and fear.

Hope whispers “Peace be with you- my Peace I give to you, Do not be afraid.”

Hope sent women to preach to the sleeping disciples.

On Pentecost, Hope poured out to Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia.

On the Damascus Road, Hope blinded a religious terrorist.

Hope so rebuilt Saul that he penned “faith, hope, and love endure and the greatest of these is love.”

Hope gathers we scattered and torn down disciples and sets us to singing, preaching and healing.

Hope will come again in Glory.


Hope will forgive. Hope will restore.

Hope will cleanse. Hope will heal.

Hope will put us to singing, laughing and dancing.

Today, in this very place, Hope will rebuild our toppled and turned over places!

Hope calls to us!


Will we answer? Will we listen? Will we walk towards the joyful sounds of the Wedding Feast? Will we join in the songs, singing “Joy to the world the Lord has come?” Listen for the word of God! Listen; “Give thanks to the Lord! The Lord is good! God’s steadfast love endures forever.” Where the Lord is, there is Hope! Let us not trust in temples, princes, birthrights or strong walls- they will fail us. God may remake us in the midst of exile and humiliation! God may save us in Babylon. Trust in the Lord.  Sing a new song.   Listen. Wait. Hum. Sing. The Lord is our Hope! Our only hope is in the Lord. Amen!

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