(full online service video below)
Alyce M. Mullen, a retired elder of the Virginia Conference wrote in a devotional booklet entitled Dry Bones to New Life: God’s Vision of Hope, of how she clung to hope when her 21-year-old son was killed one Christmas by a drunk driver. Her family was stunned, overwhelmed by grief. For many weeks, Alyce says she felt suspended in the presence of God who shared her sorrow and gradually breathed healing into her shattered life.
One night, three years later, while she was on chaplain duty at a D.C. hospital, Alyce was called to the emergency room. A 19-year-old young man had died in a motorcycle accident, and his parents were lashing out at doctors and nurses. When Alyce walked into the room and introduced herself as the chaplain, the mother’s anger exploded. “Don’t you talk to me of God!” While the mother railed at God and all who were present in the room, Alyce said that she prayed for wisdom to help this mother to know that she was not alone in her pain.
Alyce says that the mother’s agonizing words pierced her, and she told the mother that she thought she could understand her pain as she, too, had a son who had died. When the mother heard Alyce say this, she grew silent. After a few minutes, the abrupt silence was broken by the mother’s sobs. She let Alyce embrace her, and they cried together as the mother realized she was not alone in her pain and in the questions that were overwhelming her.
In reflecting on her encounter with this grieving mother, and with other grieving parents, Alyce reported that she was awed at the way God could take her suffering and create a gift of hope from it. Alyce wrote that “It’s not that we rejoice because we experience the inevitable pain life brings – the idea is offensive – but because we learn in suffering how much “God’s love is poured into our hearts.”
Over the past week, we have watched reports of people in central and southern states whose lives have been turned upside down by tornadoes. We have seen grieving families who have lost loved ones of all ages as they wrestle with questions about life and hope. I heard one man describe how, in 30 seconds, all he had worked for in his life had been lost.
It is in the midst of this pain that we seek to listen for a message of hope this Christmas. As we listen to the scripture from Isaiah, we listen for a message of hope.
We listen to the prophet Isaiah who prophesied about the wilderness and dry land being glad as persons who had lived as exiles would be returning home. We listen to Isaiah speak a message of hope about everlasting joy.
As we listen to the scripture from John, we listen for a message of hope about the light of God shining in the darkness, and how darkness did not overcome the light.
On this day after Christmas, we worship in the hope that God’s love can be poured into our hearts as we give thanks for the hope that Jesus’ birth gives to us.
During my 44 years of serving as an ordained minister, I have seen hope empower people who thought they had been rendered powerless by the circumstances of their lives. I have seen hope in God resurrecting people into new realities for their lives as they have had the love of God poured into their hearts. I bear witness today to the presence of hope for people who have hoped, beyond all reasonable expectations, that God can open new roads for life even when we encounter deserts and darkness that try to hold us as exiles in lands that cause us to question God’s love and possibilities for our lives.
As people who celebrate the birth of Jesus, we believe that Isaiah and John were witnessing to hope when they wrote about dry land becoming fresh and light shining in the darkness. Hope is the foundation of our faith that allows us to be with other people in the hopeless moments of their lives. Hope is the foundation of our faith that calls us to follow the light of Jesus when we face the desert times of our lives.
The late Dr. F. Douglas Dillard, Jr. preached about the hope we are called to proclaim with these words:
“To hope is not to ignore the future and say it is not ours to fashion. Hope is the art of learning to rest our anxieties in the love and adequacy of God . . .The longer I live, the more I feel that no discouraging situation into which we sail is pure disaster with nothing that can be done about it. We do not deny the pain; we throw out the anchor of hope and go to work to become aware of the possibilities of redemption”.
pp. 30-31, Journeying With God, Dr. F. Douglas Dillard, Jr.
How are you living in hope?
Preparing the Way
by Pastor Marc Brown
December 5, 2021
Accompanying Scriptures: Isaiah 35:1-10, John 1:1-5
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for December 26, 2021
The Good News “Hope”
Scripture Lesson Isaiah 35:1-10, John 1:1-5
Music “The First Noel”
Closing Music “What Child is This?” arr. Mark Hayes