Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6 We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8 Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9 Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Sermon Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

Good morning and happy new year! Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the new year in the church calendar. This is the Sunday when we celebrate hope—the hope for the coming Messiah, the Christ-child who will come to save us. The Christ who will return to the world.

I borrowed my title from a poem by Emily Dickinson, but my title was also inspired by a really heartwarming story that I saw on Facebook a few days ago. Perhaps you heard it, too.

This year’s Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center was harvested in Oneonta, NY. The tree arrived at Rockefeller Center a couple days later, and then workers set up the tree and began to decorate it.

During the process, one of the workers found a stowaway—a tiny owl, a saw-whet owl, was clinging to one of the branches and it didn’t want to leave! Apparently, it was in the tree before it was cut down and it rode the tree all the way to Manhattan. Can you believe that?

The worker who found the owl went back down to the ground and got a box. I’m guessing that the worker cut off the branch to which the owl was clinging, and then placed the owl in the box. It’s an adorable picture. Then the owl was taken to a rehabilitation center and examined by a veterinarian. It will be released back into the wild once it’s safe.

I don’t know about you folks, but that’s the kind of story that makes me feel good about humanity. A lot of people decided to do the right thing, and in the process, they helped out a little owl that was probably very scared and confused. It gives me hope that we can all do kind and merciful things.

Our reading from the prophet Isaiah is filled with longing—the prophet hopes for deliverance from unbearable circumstances; he doesn’t understand why God hasn’t delivered God’s chosen people from their suffering. This text speaks to me, especially verse 6: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” This brings to mind all of the hand-sanitizer and N-95 masks that characterize our lives these days. There are many parallels.

The Book of Isaiah was most likely written by three different authors, over a period of a couple centuries. Today’s reading comes from the third author, after a time known as the Babylonian captivity. During that time, the Babylonian empire conquered the Kingdom of Judah, captured all of the religious and political leaders in Jerusalem, and then took them into captivity in Babylon.

The exiles remained in Babylon for 60-80 years—new generations were born in captivity. During that time, they prayed. They lamented their fate. And they asked God for deliverance from captivity—and eventually they were set free. The Persians defeated the Babylonians and the exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.

Everything was going to be great!

Except—it wasn’t!