Hope for World AIDS Day and Start of Lent

Sermon 1 Dec 2013 – ADVENT, World AIDS Day, HOPE

Isaiah 2:1-5; Ps 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matt 24: 36-44

I greet you in the name of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is a special day for 3 reasons – all related to our theme of HOPE.

1. It is the first Sunday in Advent;

2. it is World AIDS Day; and

3. AND (PAUSE) – we are officially (in my home anyway) allowed to put up Christmas decorations!

With this first Sunday in Advent, we begin the journey of hope and expectation, as we patiently wait, day by day, until the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate symbol of our faith. Every year we listen to the stories retold over and over of Mary, the angel Gabriel, Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, the wise men, the shepherds, and finally the miracle of our savior being born bringing our hopes and dreams to life. Christmas carols last night at Bedford Centre reminded me of the many fun rituals and activities we do on this journey of hope and renewal of our faith.

You may be surprised but World AIDS Day is also a time for hope. December 1st is commemorated around the world to recommit ourselves to supporting all those affected and infected with HIV/AIDS; to remember those who passed away, and to push for programmes to prevent, manage and find a cure for the disease that has been one of our biggest challenges in Southern Africa. Thanks to the care givers, doctors, nurses, scientists, activists and people living with AIDS – who never gave up HOPE, they campaigned for access to Anti Retroviral Therapy for babies and adults. This has saved millions of lives in South Africa alone. While only 66% of those in need have access to these life-saving drugs, the turnaround in the Dept of Health in the past few years has been remarkable and HOPEFUL. We still need to talk more and do more in spreading awareness and support, especially for the 1.5 million orphaned and vulnerable children in SA alone, but for the first time there is a decline in the numbers of people getting infected – including the age group 18-25 years old. There IS HOPE.

Like there is hope when we set off on a journey or pilgrimage which is mentioned in our first reading and our psalm. A pilgrimage is a special journey to a shrine or sacred place as an act of religious devotion. A pilgrimage can also be a journey or long search made for exalted or sentimental reasons.

The passage from Isaiah says “let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” and “let us walk in the light of the Lord”. Today’s Psalm 122 is called “The joy and petition of a pilgrim” or “A pilgrimage song of David”. It celebrates the pilgrimage to the house of Yahweh – Jerusalem. This original Hebrew focus has been adapted by Christians to symbolize our own pilgrimage of hope and faith in finding salvation and our own Jerusalem. They say this Psalm was one of St Augustine’s favourites as he loved any excuse for a pilgrimage to a holy place and use to drop everything and say to his fellow monks “Let’s Go!”

Our second reading is a bit more sobering as Paul gives the Romans – and us – a wake-up call. Life is not only about fun. We must pay attention and wake up from our slumber as “salvation is nearer than we first believed.” (Romans 13: 11b NIV) Paul says we must put aside sin and the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light and clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ who will guide and protect us. So in this time of parties and holidays, eating and drinking, let us be a bit careful and pay attention to what we are doing and remember prayer, spreading hope and doing good deeds.

Our gospel reading in Matthew reminds us to keep watch and pay attention for the Coming of our Saviour. Our advent pilgrimage is about being prepared and being aware so that we are ready to serve Him in all circumstances as He may return at any moment.

Everything today is really about HOPE and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what difficulties we face in life, there is always hope because we are clothed by Jesus Christ and wear His armor.

I would like to make a challenge that during this time of advent we find something hopeful each and every day and then do something to spread the message of hope. There are so many stories of hope – it is just so often we are overwhelmed and distracted by the bad news and negativity.

Hope is central to our faith as Christians and in all the major religions. It is the centre pillar in FAITH HOPE AND LOVE.

In rising to the challenge, I have two stories of hope.  On Friday night at a local hotel, friends of Rebecca, a 19-year-old living with leukemia – organized and hosted a fundraising event called Bash for Becka. Bands, musicians and DJs donated their time, young and old packed the hotel to support her search for matching bone marrow. Many who could not attend made online donations – even nationally and internationally . It was truly a community event full of fun and hope. In an email sent last night to thank guests, an organiser wrote: “We may believe we live in a world of self interest and greed, but the “Bash for ‘Becca” and the generosity of friends and strangers shows there are many who understand what humanity should stand up for.”

Another story of hope is yesterday I heard an interview on the radio with 17-year-old Noluthando Mathe who is in Grade 11 and won the Step Up Let’s Lead Award recognizing her volunteer work with young people. She humbly spoke about her hope for South Africa and what we can all do to support community upliftment – she herself does maths tutoring, runs a feeding scheme and teaches traditional dancing to teens – all in her spare time. Her attitude and actions have in turn given so many young people hope – and I was also inspired and renewed with hope.

There are three things we can take away today that will help us in the week ahead:

  1. We can use this advent to embark on our own personal pilgrimage to deepen our faith as we “walk in the light of the Lord” clothed in Jesus Christ.
  2. While enjoying a much needed holiday, we also need to pay attention so that we don’t miss the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Let’s each commit to finding a story of hope every day – and spreading this good news to as many people as possible. Yes, you can even use facebook and twitter!

We can start today. As St Augustine said before embarking on a pilgrimage: “Let’s Go”

Enjoy the ride and may God bless you and your family this advent! AMEN!