Hope for the Hopeless
Words for Advent Sunday – 29 November 2020 – A cyber sermon from the Vicarage
Text: What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. (Mark 13.37)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
In American Rules Football, a sport which Johnathan Dotchin and I avidly follow (and that isn’t simply because he is engaged to Sara Wright from Kansas who occasionally reminds us that Kansas City Chiefs are the Superbowl Champions) there is a play called a ‘Hail Mary’. Often used at the end of a tight game with seconds to spare before the clock runs down, it is a game winning high long pass from the Quarterback to a Wide Receiver who has somehow managed to run past all eleven members of the opposition to make a catch and do a victory dance in the End Zone. Why is it called a ‘Hail Mary’? Well, because it is more a prayer than a play and any hope of it being successful is to be found more in the next life than this one…
It is the only hope at the end of a long game for a team which was hopeless before the catch was made and a prayer answered.
It may seem, as we stand on the brink of a sotto voce Advent and a subdued Christmas that the world is in a hopeless place without hope. But will a “Hail Mary’ do the trick? In the weeks to come we will read how the phrase ‘Hail Mary’ came into our common parlance and listen again to how a young girl child took our future into her womb and gave birth to a new eternal hope.
The first Christmas was not a very pretty place to be. Government imposed travel restrictions, a young couple finding shelter wherever they could without the support and care of their family, gawky uneducated shepherds bursting in on the intimacy of a new birth. And then the mystery of foreign visitors with prophecies of foreboding, a massacre, a flight and an exile. Hope may very well have come down at Christmas but its presence was marked by homelessness and fear, death and flight.
I think I will stick with a sotto voce Advent and a subdued Christmas rather than go back to the original!
We are in the same place now as the Holy Family was then. This, sadly, is a commonplace. Rereading my sermon Prepared Unpreparedness from this time last year reminded me that we are often in a place of hopelessness frequently and, looking forward to events such as World AIDS Day this coming Tuesday, teaches me that we are a people who are always in need of new hope and an angelic ‘Hail Mary’.
And so we come to Jesus exhortation in Mark’s Gospel as to what to do when the, almost inevitable, time of hopelessness and disaster arrives.
We know how to read the Signs of the Times.
We know the certainty of the seasons bearing their fruit.
We should by now know the certainty of our doom if we fail to look around us.
Jesus gives us simple advice, Keep Awake!
In the middle of the deathly dark winters of our lives we must look for the signs of Spring and the promise of the Resurrection.
In the angst of separation from our loved ones we need to pronounce and claim the promise declared in the name Emmanuel – God with us!
Surrounded by confusion and contradiction on every side we must turn to follow the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
Keep Awake or else, like five of Matthew’s young bridesmaids who have run out of oil, we will not have any light to see the hope that is being born amongst us.
The signs of hope are there to see for all who are awake.
Look at the deep lasting effect of a very hastily cobbled together plan to supply food for the Parish Pantry and baby and toddler clothing to Pushchair Pitstop..
Look at those of our number who have reached out to so many by delivering this newsletter, making an extra phone call, carrying out a little shopping.
Look at those who have spent each day poring over the names of those for whom prayer has been asked and brought them closer to God’s presence.
There is Hope for the Hopeless, it just comes from unexpected places. As the Magi will soon discover it is not found in King’s Palaces but in humble outhouses.
The Hope we proclaim did not come amongst us with strategies, budgets, policies and contingency plans.
Hope is born in darkness and grown in a decision to love others because we ourselves have been loved.
Hope can only be seen by those who are awake to the tender shoots of a way of living that is not afraid to throw a ‘Hail Mary’ pass in the certainty that God is there waiting to catch us and rejoice over us in the End Zone that is the Life Everlasting.
This Advent, this Christmas, will undoubtedly feel different to previous ones, but that is the common lot of many who are hungry and homeless all year round. There will come times for each of us again when our celebrations are muted because of personal circumstance (one of the reasons why we will be holding a Blue Christmas service on the afternoon of 20 December).
The first Christmas, despite the sugar coating of history and our desire that every story has a happy ending, was not covered in tinsel and fairy lights. This Advent and Christmas may not have much either. But it will have, if we but Keep Awake, the hope of a Redeemer born to rescue us from the morass of a world gone wrong who calls us forward by deeds of love and service to proclaim to those around us, ‘Prepare the Way of the Lord!”
[This blog ‘Hope for the Hopeless’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2020 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]