“Words of Hope”
Luke 3:1-6

President Obama has addressed the nation on the issue of terror and law enforcement officers in San Bernardino, CA have conducted raids in the homes of people connected to selling assault weapons to what appears to be two self-radicalized supporters of ISIS. As the investigation continues in California and we contemplate what is happening around the world, we lift our hearts with the Psalmist, “Satisfy us in the morning, O Lord, with your steadfast love. Grant us your compassion and let your favor rest upon us. Amen.” (Psalm 90) In times of trouble, this is the affirmation of Christian hope. The Lord is our dwelling place and in the words of the wilderness preacher John the Baptist, the Lord is our salvation, our security and our peace.

Those who suffer and those who mourn, those who are anxious and those who are prone to worry, can find great comfort and hope in the words of the Baptist. The day is coming when every valley shall be filled, ever mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Several nights ago, it was reported that our four year old granddaughter Leila offered the following bedtime prayer for her grandmother who is recovering from a knee injury, “Dear God, thank you so much for today. Please make Minnow better and please make Pops help her. Amen.” The prayer demonstrates in a few words the faith we believe and cherish. We live in the promise that when all is said and done, the Lord is the One who will make everything right.

Another child prays, “The day is done; O God the Son. Look down upon Thy little one. O Light of Light, Keep me this night, and shed round me Thy presence bright. I need not fear if Thou art near; Thou art my Savior kind and dear. Amen.” These precious words echo the words preached in the wilderness, “The Lord God is our salvation.”

14 families mourn the loss of loved ones. 21 families sit at the bedsides of the wounded. A community recovers from unbelievable violence in the name of religion. We seem to be living in a time filled with chaos prompting more and more people to verbalize concern about the world we are passing on to our children and grandchildren. We live in the shadow of low-grade anxiety in light of the danger and constant threats.

To this end, I offer two thoughts. First, may we listen and hear the prayers of our children as they teach us how to pray with a grace-filled simplicity that echoes the wisdom of Jesus. Jesus said there are appropriate times to ask, seek, and knock with the expectation that our prayers will not only be heard but also answered. May our prayers for peace, justice, and reconciliation not be token prayers but prayers that are lived and marked by careful and sincere words that give expression to a faith that is connected to Jesus Christ, and adheres to his way of living. Second, may we reaffirm our appreciation for this new season of Advent as it emphasizes the preaching of John the Baptist that calls for repentance, preparation and readiness, and a yearning to see the salvation of God.
Our late Christian brother, Henri Nouwen, made the following entry in his diary a year before his death, “There is much to enjoy in life, but unless it can be enjoyed as a foretaste of what we will see and hear in the house of God, our mortality will easily make all pleasure vain and empty.” (Sabbatical Journey, page 12) God does not intend that we live vain and empty lives and therefore, the Lord has raised his hand and sent certain people as special messengers to grab our attention and make us think about who we are, where we are, and the direction we may be going. John the Baptist, was and remains that kind of messenger and his message is loud and clear –

One, repent, turn away from behavior that contradicts the love and mercy of God. Christians are called to serve as a contrast to the ways that foster despair and fear.
Two, prepare the way for the Lord, practice the grace and discipline of readiness. May our faith not become lukewarm and dull.
Three, God promises to shower us with the grace of salvation. Evil may threaten and even harm us, but it cannot take our mind, it cannot touch our heart, and it cannot touch our soul as long as we are, in the words of the Apostle Paul, grounded and rooted in Jesus Christ.

When John the Baptist was born his father Zechariah could not contain his happiness and joy. He said, “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

We do not understand how a radicalized mother and father delivered their six-month-old child to a grandmother before they initiated their terrible wave of violence and death. In the aftermath of what happened in California, I suggest that we turn our attention and our energy in a different direction. This is not a time for us to be afraid or void of hope nor is this a time for combative or inflammatory rhetoric. Instead, this is a time to devote our hearts to the message of the Baptist and, in the words of Eugene Peterson, a modern day John the Baptist, to also remember that we are company of praying men and women who gather on Sundays for worship and who then go out into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms us. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are called to stand against the tide of what we see happening in the world with the understanding that we are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together. (The Jesus Way, page 5)

And John the Baptist preached: Turn. Prepare. See. In the tradition of all the children who kneel, bow their heads and pray, may we also pray, “Jesus, Savior, wash away all that has been wrong today. Help me every day to be good and gentle, more like Thee.” In Jesus Christ, hope is very much alive. Therefore, may we adhere to the apostolic witness of Peter who addresses the theme of waiting. According to Peter, our Christian task is to wait for the coming of Christ with patience and confidence, grounded in his peace. Amen.