Advent Reconciliation Service: A Thrill of Hope
By Deacon Eric Stoltz
Well, last week on “20/20,” they reported on a study that demonstrated something amazing. Are you ready for this?
They discovered that serving other people…makes you happy.
Imagine their surprise. Never mind that we Christians have been saying that for only 2,000 years now.
It is amazing sometimes how the world struggles to find happiness in all the wrong places, over and over again. It’s like the time on “The Simpsons” when Lisa conducted her own experiment to prove that a hamster was smarter than Bart. The hamster stopped reaching for the food when it got an electrical shock, but Bart kept reaching for an electrified cupcake despite being shocked each time.
The world seems at times to be spiraling out of control, even though we offer it the Good News that will solve all its problems. And yet we must admit that even we, God’s holy people who proclaim the Gospel, fail at times. OK, a lot.
We fail because we are still trying to find human solutions to our problems. And that is why we are here tonight.
- We know, for instance, that wealth and possessions will not make us happy. But when we are unhappy, we think, “Hmmm. Maybe that new Mercedes is what I need.”
- We know that forgiveness will make us happy. But when offended or insulted, we want to get even.
- We know that fidelity will make us happy. But when we crave self-affirmation, we seek it in infidelity.
This is Advent, and I know we keep telling you to wait for Christmas. But let’s take a look forward in joyful anticipation to the words of one Christmas carol:
A thrill of hope
the weary world rejoices
for yonder breaks
a new and glorious morn
What a beautiful thought for this hope-filled season of Advent and for us as we approach the Throne of Mercy tonight.
This is the thrill of hope expressed by Zechariah in tonight’s Gospel. Remember: in telling Zechariah his wife Elizabeth would bear a son, the angel Gabriel told him, “Do not be afraid,” that he brought good news to Zechariah.
“Do not be afraid.” Did you know this is the most frequent sentence in the Bible? Words of hope.
But Zechariah was afraid, and he doubted the good news. Just like us. He was struck speechless until his son John would be born.
Zechariah finally gives up trying to find happiness on his own terms. He lets God be God. And his first words at the birth of John the Baptist are a glorious expression of hope.
- Hope that we may worship God without fear of what will make us truly happy.
- Hope for the mercy of God that will make us whole.
- Hope for forgiveness of sins that brings us new life.
- Hope that God will live among us.
As Zechariah said,
The daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness
and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
Peace. Now there’s a word the weary world does not understand. To the world, peace means to just stop killing thousands of people for a while. But for us Christians, peace means a whole lot more.
After your individual confessions tonight, we invite you to take a paper from the basket before the altar. Each is paper is different: each has the name of a nation. We ask you to take that paper home. Whatever nation you draw, pray for the people of that nation during Advent. Put the paper on your refrigerator, or in your car, or whatever works for you. Learn about that nation. Consider their needs. Pray that God will send them true peace, the peace that is justice, compassion, love and concern for the common good.
The weary world needs peace. And so do we. Let’s not doubt God when he tells us what will make us happy. Let’s not be afraid to seek true happiness rather than the fleeting and unsatisfying pleasure of the world.
And where we have failed, we acknowledge our failings with tears of joyful hope. For the Lord is kind and merciful.
You and I are following a star. Sometimes it’s hard to see. Sometimes we wonder if the star will really lead us to happiness. Sometimes we fall along our way.
But we follow, we follow, we follow.
Bloodied and bedraggled, hungry and heartbroken, torn and troubled, we follow.
Because in our hearts, we have felt a thrill of hope.