“Abound in Hope”
Advent 2, December 8, 2013
Abound in Hope
Sermon Text: Romans 15:4–13
“It was a dark and stormy night.” Do you recognize those words? In case you’ve forgotten (or you are too young to remember), they’re the words of Snoopy, the black and white beagle in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon. Among his many pastimes, such as flying his Sopwith Camel in World War I, and sleeping on the roof of his doghouse, Snoopy is a “world famous author,” whose stories are always rejected by the publisher. Perhaps he was rejected because of plagiarism. The “dark and stormy night” line was an opening line from English novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Maybe Snoopy kept getting rejected because he was not particularly creative, as all his stories began: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Even when Lucy and Linus try to help Snoopy find another beginning, such as “Once upon a time,” Snoopy persists. “Once upon a time, it was a dark and stormy night,” he writes. Up to the very last Peanuts comic strip in February 2000, Snoopy was still writing about that dark and stormy night.
But maybe, just maybe, Snoopy sticks to that line precisely because it’s not all that original. Life is full of dark and stormy nights, times of hopelessness and despair. A great irony of these weeks leading up to Christmas is that, while the air is filled with messages of peace and goodwill, we often struggle with “dark and stormy nights” and, for that matter, dark and stormy days.
We have noted before that being a Christian does not exempt us from problems. Bad stuff happens to Christians. You know this. We know much about those dark and stormy times. Christmas can even be a dark and stormy time. We wish it wouldn’t be, but it can be. For some of us, Christmas will be dark and stormy because of our grief. It is often hard for a family that has lost someone near and dear, when they get to the holidays and find an empty place at the dinner table. I certainly know what that is like. Many of you do, too.
For some of us, Christmas will be dark and stormy because there is conflict in our families and the holidays can make that worse. We watch TV this time of year and see classic holiday movies and endless commercials that show us images of family harmony around the Christmas tree. These may remind us that our lives are often not like that at all. For a lot of families, Christmas celebrations are not “peace on earth,” but more “war is heck.”
For all of us, each day is made dark and stormy because of our sin. The storms of life do not just come upon us from the outside. More often the storms that come are things of our own creation, as we in thought, word, and deed rebel against our God and each other. All of us have had to live with the result and consequences of our sins: the secret told, the lie exposed, choosing to have an affair, choosing the job over the family, the words of anger that cannot be taken back once they are said.
Dealing with dark and stormy days is nothing new. It has gone on since Adam and Eve got kicked out of the Garden of Eden. We see this in our text. The Christians in Rome also knew about dark and stormy times. They were a small group who often found themselves in the middle of a hostile environment, as the Romans persecuted them and even (eventually) killed them for sport. They struggled with the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians. They were threatened by any number of false teachers who wanted to lure them away from the faith by their smooth talk and faithless deceptions. Those first-century Christians in Rome were in danger of slipping into hopelessness and despair.
In the same way, the dark and stormy times can lead us away from God and into hopelessness and despair. The sadness that may hit you at this time of year, even at Christmas, can cause us to doubt that God is with us at all. Then instead of being generous, caring for others, loving our neighbors as Jesus calls us to do, we focus on ourselves. We turn inward.
Our Lord does not want us to be in despair. He does not want us to feel hopeless. Instead He calls the Roman Christians and us to abound in hope, to be filled with hope! Paul assures us that Even in the Midst of Dark and Stormy Times, God Gives Us Hope in the Root of Jesse: Jesus.
I will say it again: Yes, God gives us hope in that Root of Jesse. Hope is possible even in our dark and stormy times because our hope is not of our own creation; it is not something we do. Any “hope” we put together is always subject to conditions around us; in dark times, it fades. This hope Paul and I refer to here is not just a pious sentiment.
The hope Paul describes is different. Our hope is a gift of the Holy Spirit (v 13). God Himself is “the God of hope.” It’s the Holy Spirit’s nature to give hope. The foundation of this hope is the sure and certain Word of God (v 4). That’s how the Holy Spirit gives it. He inspired the Scriptures, “written in former days,” to assure us of God’s care. God is faithful to His people. He got Abraham a son when Abraham was older than me! He reunited Jacob with Joseph in Egypt of all places. He got Noah through the flood on their crowded little cruise ship. He got Goliath for David, wisdom for Solomon, fireproofing for Daniel.
And God does not change. If He was that good to them, He is that good to us. Therefore, there’s no question that God will bring us through the dark and stormy times. The question is how? And the answer is found where the Word of God points us. That Word points us to the Root of Jesse, JESUS, the ultimate sign of hope (v 12).
Jesus Christ entered this dark and stormy world to give His life on the cross for our sins, including our despair and hopelessness. The risen Jesus Christ comes to us today to bring new life in the midst of our dark and stormy nights. The Root of Jesse springs forth in our lives. He is our hope—for comfort in grief, for harmony in brokenness, for forgiveness of sin!
Abound in this hope! Be filled with this hope. This is not something we feel, it is something God gives! My brothers and sisters in Christ, this hope Paul and I are talking about here; it is real, and it is for you! In our dark and stormy nights, we might have trouble at times even imagining that this hope exists, yet it is ours in Jesus Christ, free for the receiving, a priceless treasure from God, a gift of His redeeming love. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope!