It is now a spiritual cliché: live in the present moment;
which is usually understood as: don’t think
about the past or the future.
But St. Augustine says the future constantly rushes
into the past through an instant,
a portal so thin we cannot fit into it.
The present moment is the intersection
of the past and the future.
It is the critical juncture at which
the past may ensnare the future
or the future may redeem the past.
What happened yesterday shapes today’s experience.
Our past can be a blessing or a curse.
It’s hard not to get stuck in memories.
Good memories capture us in nostalgia,
longing for a past that can never be recovered.
Bad memories capture us in despair.
We identify with our old wounds.
I am the one who suffered this or endured that.
Sticky memories can trap us like flypaper.
But the meaning of the past
and its power over the present depends
entirely on what we think of the future.
We live each moment with an expectation,
scanning the horizon,
always watching for something.
But we rarely watch neutrally,
without preformed expectations.
We live in dread or hope, faith or fear.
Nothing is more fundamental to our way of being in the world
than our attitude toward the future.
Advent is the season when we pay attention to
how God puts a divine thumb
on the scale in favor of hope.
God breaks up the stony soil of pessimism
with the plow of a promise,
a promise that may even redeem the past.
By 2nd Isaiah’s day,
Judah had been in exile for decades,
writing songs of lament.
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
as we remembered Zion.
Before they were vanquished by Babylon,
most of Judah was occupied by Assyria.
Before that they had been a vassal state of Egypt.
Before that they had been besieged by Aram.
No living Jew could remember peace and prosperity.
Their plight raises a question for us:
is it possible to hope for something
we cannot remember?
Is it possible to anticipate something
we have not yet experienced?
Over the years, I often asked churches,
what are you hoping for?
The answers I heard were usually memories.
Is it possible to hope for something we cannot remember?
Judah could not even remember happiness,
but God said to his prophet, Isaiah,
Comfort, O comfort ye my people . . ..
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her
that she has served her term
that her penalty is paid.
Can you hear God saying that to you?
Can you see your old habitual sorrows
as a time of exile, and hear God say
You have served your term; it’s over?
The Jewish exiles had lost a lot
– the temple, homes, families.
We all lose what is dear to us.
Then we live in the loss; abide in the sorrow.
Isaiah acknowledges the loss, but then reminds us
there is something we can never lose.
All people are grass . . ..
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.
The word of our God that stands forever is good news.
It’s gospel. The Bible says:
Get up to a high mountain O Zion,
herald of good tidings.
Lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem,
herald of good tidings.
Herald of good tidings.
Can you imagine not only hearing God’s promise
that you will be peaceful and at ease,
that you will be happy
– but can you imagine that you not only hear
that good news for yourself;
but that you are, this day,
appointed as God’s messenger
to tell God’s good news to others.
Whatever your identity was this morning,
you have a new one tonight – herald of good tidings –
tidings beyond anything we have ever experienced.
God’s good news exceeds the capacity of human language
to express directly.
So, Isaiah uses metaphors:
Say to the cities of Judah, here is your God . . ..
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
He will carry the lambs in his arms
and carry them in his bosom
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Can you imagine living in expectation
of a serene joy that you have never felt before?
If you can, then you will experience right now
a hope you have never felt before.
Even in the midst of the trials and hardships of today,
you will carry in your heart an ember of consolation
The quality of this present moment will be hope.
I invite you each to hear this promise for yourself personally.
It’s from another prophet speaking in a hard, dark time.
Jeremiah delivered this message from God:
I know the plans I have for you;
plans to prosper you and not harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future.
God promises to do a new thing in you,
to make Christ real to you and in you.
Meister Eckhart said,
It does not matter if Jesus was born
in Bethlehem long ago
unless he is born in you today.