“Hope for Uncertain Hearts”
Luke 1:26-45 (1:30) – November 28, 2021
I want to ask a simple question. Do you believe God is active in the world today? I know we can read about Bible times, thousands of years ago. The Bible says that God was active, mighty and powerful, back then. God did amazing things in people’s lives – long, long ago. But, what about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today?
“Few of our people imagine God to be an active character in the story of their lives.” And I suspect commentator Walter Brueggemann is right. It’s not that people today don’t believe in God. It’s more that, day in and day out, God seems to most of them (and perhaps to us, too) as fairly passive. If God is doing anything, it’s pretty much hanging out in the background, watching, waiting, merely being supportive. Not vital, and not active. 
Here we are, on the first Sunday in Advent. God may seem far away right now. Merely watching and waiting. Not playing a vital, active role in the story of our lives today. Perhaps it is difficult to think of the Lord as a mighty, powerful actor in our lives right now. But, wasn’t that exactly what God was, in our Scripture reading today?
I suspect Mary was shocked down to her sandals when the angel came to her that day, two thousand years ago. The angel said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” We can read that “29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” If that isn’t God taking an active role in Mary’s life, I don’t know what is.
Is it possible that you and I might have that same kind of expectation today, that hopeful looking-forward-to God acting in our lives, too?
I am afraid that I am not very hopeful right now. Neither is my friend, Rev. April Fiet. The fear, the anxiety, the uncertainty of the past eighteen months of pandemic have taken their toll on many, many people across our country. Across our world. Is it even possible to hope? Or, is that feeling a big uncertainty, too?
Pastor April says “I have tried to hope even when better days seemed impossible. I tried to take things one day at a time, not get too far ahead of myself, and look at the good things I had rather than the things I was losing out on.”  I can relate to this honesty. Like Pastor April, I became afraid to hope, too. Every time I got a little bit of hope in my heart, some positivity inside, something would happen. COVID cases would spike, or hospitals and morgues would be overwhelmed, or more recently, the supply chain would have severe interruptions. Not to mention interruptions or disasters in my work life here, or my personal life at home.
Yet, as we mark the first Sunday in Advent, the first candle on the Advent wreath is called the candle of Hope. Can you and I possibly find hope in such an atmosphere of anxiety? Of uncertainty? Overwhelmed by pervasive negativity?
Pastor April’s words ring so true in my heart. She says, “I’m uncertain about Advent. I’m uncertain I can hope. I’m uncertain about what’s possible for me. The only thing I’m certain about is that I don’t want to go through Advent with this heaviness on my heart. I want to find a way to release [this feeling] so that healing can begin to happen. I want to exchange uncertainty for hope.”  Oh, that would be such a blessing to my heart, to even begin to hope!
I suspect if you and I had an encounter with a heavenly messenger, like Mary did in our Scripture reading, things might be very different for us. I’m asking, again: what about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today? Can God actively encourage our hearts to hope?
Sometime after Mary and the angel had their encounter and Mary became pregnant with the infant Jesus, Mary went to her older cousin Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth had had a wonderful intervention happen in her life, too. Mary and Elizabeth both had a most joyous reason to hope. Yes, I suspect both women were anxious and fearful sometimes, especially as this was the first pregnancy for both women.
I’m wondering: isn’t it possible to feel afraid and to hope at the same time? The Holy Spirit helped Mary and Elizabeth to hold great hope in their hearts. They held on to hope even in all the uncertainty and caution of their lives.
Sometimes, we may feel overwhelmed, even afraid to hold on to hope. But, we do not need to face challenges all alone. God has promised to be with us. Plus, you and I can join together. We can come alongside of each other, too, if someone is feeling especially down and hopeless.  We can thank God for each other! Thank God for God’s mighty power, too.
So, what do you think? We know about Bible times long ago, and what the biblical record has to say. What about today? Is God active in your life – in my life – today? Can God actively encourage our hearts to hope? We can trust that God is still active, and is still doing all kinds of things in the world today – even in each of our lives! Look around at the people around you, in your family, in your congregation. God actively encourages each one of them, and each of us, too. 
God can do marvelous things through all our lives, too. Think how many marvelous things God wants to accomplish through each of us, today. On our insides and on our outsides. God IS mighty, active, and inspiring hope for sure, even through these uncertain times.
And, thanks to Rev. April Fiet for her excellent series “An Advent for Uncertain Hearts.” I appreciate Illustrated Ministry’s Do Not Be Afraid selections for Advent, too.
 Illustrated Ministry – Do Not Be Afraid, Advent 2021