The heart of the message today is a song that J.R. Van Slyke wrote and will perform with the choir, a song about hope, which is the theme for this first Sunday in Advent. These are four weeks of preparation, expectation for the dawning of the Christ among us.

So, we open with hope. And music, I think, is a great way to inspire– music can reach deeper than words into those core parts of ourselves that can give birth to hope. To have any staying power our hope must involve the deepest parts of ourselves, the parts that connect us to each other and to God – hope must involve our pain, hope must involve our love, our passion, hope must involve our imagination to what is possible and hope must involve our resolve our fierce commitment.
Hope, then, has everything to do with faith. It is holy work.
Hope requires requires us to us to be deeply rooted in a divine reality that is eternal and enduring and at the same time is involved in the creative life of this world and all that is possible within it.

The Hebrew Prophets are examples of this. From their intimate experiences with God, they become instruments for this holy work of hope in a hurting world. With God as their guide, prophets go deeply into the catastrophe of their times, and from that heartbreak find an enduring vision of a more safe, peaceful, and just world.

This is true of Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Esther, you can go through all the books of the prophets in the Bible… as well as John the Baptist, and Jesus, and the Apostles … and you can think of the prophets of our times.

They all share what has been called “The Prophetic Imagination.” This is a wonderful way of looking at what prophets do, especially with hope. This is from Walter Brueggemann, who is a member of a UCC church and is a well-known Christian writer and scholar. This is what Brueggemann writes:
“It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.”
“Hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.”
For many prophets, like I said, this holy imagination of hope dawn on them in the midst of catastrophe. This holy imagination of hope doesn’t cause them to ignore the catastrophe, it isn’t some drug that gives you happy dreams while Paradise burns and Tuvalu floods.
No, for the prophets their experiences of the living God compelled them to engage with the catastrophes of their times in courageous and creative ways, knowing that their hope is in God, their hope is beyond the horizons of the ways that fear constricts our view.
That is our call.
That’s part of the meaning of the birth of the Christ in our midst:
An ever renewing dawn of hope that compels us to engage with the catastrophes of our times in courageous and creative ways.

So, let me turn to the creative expression of hope that J.R. has conjured up.
Let me just read the lyrics, so we can reflect on them. Notice how this song begins with catastrophe – the major flooding in our region of the West during the end of the last ice age, which turns out to be the reason the soil is so rich for growing things.

By JR VanSlyke
V. I
A long time ago
This valley stood still
Awaiting the waters
That came from the hills
it came down, it came crashing
it raged and it roiled
but in the wake of the ruin
lay horizons of soil

So let there be Joy
Let there be peace
Let there be love, love, love, love
Love is all we need
And if that’s asking too much
If it’s not meant to be
Let us have hope…for something better
….at the very least
And let it come swiftly
Faster than now
Calling on hope
Before all hope is gone

The people they came
By land then by sea
They sought what they wanted
They found what they need
And nothing came easy
As they carved out a life
And leaned so hard
On hope and sacrifice


Hope like water
From sea to shining sea
Hope like water
We’re parched and thirsty
Hope like a father
Whose proud of his son
Hope like our daughters
Who shine like the sun

We gather this Christmas
And the meaning is clear
The only real difference between us
Is hope versus fear
We journey together
Down a perilous road
Arriving together
So long as there’s hope

(Delivered December 2, 2018, at First Congregational church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)