One Candle, Infinite Hope

We had a wonderful Hanging of the Greens service this morning!  I will share more later – for now, here is my sermon …

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One Candle, Infinite Hope

On Tuesday afternoon I was invited to judge the first round of the Lions Club annual youth speech contest at Dighton-Rehoboth High School. The topic of the speech that the youth had been asked to prepare was, “The Power of One.” As I listened to different interpretations of the assigned topic, I could not help but think about the ways in which “one” has had power in my life.

I immediately thought about a book that I read last summer written by Howard Schultz, who is the Chairman, President and CEO of Starbucks. The book, which he wrote in 2011, is called, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul.” It chronicles Starbucks through its birth, its growth and its fight as they weathered recent tough economic times.

About halfway through the book Schultz talked about the decision to close 600 stores in July of 2008. He reflected on this moment by saying:

Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become. Large numbers that once captivated me … are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one.” One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time. We had to get back to what mattered most. {Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul, by Howard Schultz, 156-157}

I have thought about Schultz’s words often at the church. They are, after all, a brilliant reminder that in ministry sometimes we, too, need to let go of the big picture and focus on “one” – one member, one worship service, one bible study, one youth group event etc. etc. etc. But as I reflected on the Advent season that kicks off today, “one” took on a whole new meaning for me. Here we sit, on the first Sunday of Advent, with one candle lit – the candle of hope.

Our scripture reading for this morning comes from the book of Jeremiah, a prophet from the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. We come into the story today during a time when the Babylonians had Jerusalem under siege. Jeremiah spoke through the LORD, saying to his people that the LORD was going to fulfill the promises he made and that they would live in safety.

You know, Jeremiah was speaking to a tough audience; no matter how many prophesies of hope he spoke, the world of these people living in hostage continued to crumble around them. “Hope” was an empty offering; an incomprehensible reality.

The remarkable thing about Jeremiah is the fact that he held fast to the conviction that God’s hand was greater than that of humanity. Jeremiah did not encourage his people to just suck it up and make the best out of a bad situation. He pushed them to trust in the imaginative and redemptive power of God’s grace. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah … In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.”

Sometimes ministry is a very difficult profession to be in. Awful things happen in the world that we live in; I cannot stop them. Day after day and week after week, I hear, see and read about pain, devastation and suffering. I am constantly asked “Why?” and have no way of answering that question.

And yet I – like Jeremiah – believe that, by the grace of God, better days are coming. I believe in this world, I believe in this country, I believe in this community and I believe in the lives of each and every one of you. I believe in that one candle – the candle of hope – that lights up our Advent wreath this morning.

Advent is such a tricky season. Here at the church we are supposed to be slowing down and patiently anticipating the coming of Jesus and yet outside the world continues to spin faster every day. Our lists grow longer, our stress grows larger and our pain grows deeper. It is hard to imagine hope in a world full of anguish. But it is there. Our one candle burns brightly – and our hope extends to infinite heights.

I met with my Tuesday morning Bible Study this past week for our first meeting in a four-week Advent series. Five candles sat on the table that we gathered around, exactly how they sit in our wreath in the sanctuary. During our time together I lit both the first candle, the candle of hope and the center candle, the Christ candle. Because even though we are living through a season where we eagerly await the birth of a baby in a manger, we also know how the story will end. We live in a world where not only has Jesus come, but he has also died and been resurrected to new life. Today we hope, we pray and we wait knowing the power of the resurrection.

The hardest part about hoping for the future is sitting in the discomfort of the now. But like Jeremiah, I believe that God’s grace is more powerful than the world we are living in right now. The greens that now adorn this sanctuary remind us of the magic of this seasons. And the flame of that one candle gives us infinite hope for the future. One candle, infinite hope; that is the power of one.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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